SCMP Saturday, December 16, 2000


CONSUMER COUNCIL

Gym members exercise their right to complain

HEIKE PHILLIPS

Almost one in four fitness club members complain they are locked into rigid contracts that make it hard to leave, a survey has found.
The Consumer Council study of 2,300 fitness club members found 23.5 per cent were dissatisfied with terms and conditions binding them to membership even if they wished to temporarily suspend or terminate it.
"In the first 10 months of this year, the council received 76 consumer complaints related to fitness centres, and many arose precisely because of membership disputes," Dr Lo Chi-kin, chairman of the council's Publicity and Community Relations Committee, said yesterday.
The survey found that, almost without exception, fitness centres did not give refunds after a membership was terminated.
Dr Lo said: "Most gyms require customers to give one month's notice, and in some cases impose stringent measures for termination to come into effect." Some of these involve sending the notice by registered post or going to the gym in person to fill out a special form.
Policies on temporary suspension vary, with some centres allowing an extension of membership on medical grounds, while others allow members to retain unused portions of a prepaid membership on payment of a fee of $950. Some gyms ask clients to pay a nominal fee of $100 a month, up to a maximum of $600, which can be used as credits when they resume gym membership.
The least flexible policies require members to maintain regular monthly payments during periods of non-use, or sign up as new members when they wish to resume membership - and pay an associated joining fee.
Dr Lo said: "Consumers using autopay to settle payments are reminded to cancel their direct debit authorisation when terminating membership."
The council study found the second highest area of dissatisfaction among gym users were sales tactics used by fitness centres, with 23.4 per cent unhappy about such practices. Almost one in five respondents said they were not satisfied with the ratio of instructors to gym users, 17 per cent complained about fees and charges and 15.2 per cent found personal attention provided by instructors less than satisfactory.
On average, the fitness centre which rated the highest was the South China Athletics Association, followed by the YMCA Tsim Sha Tsui and Tom Turk's.
The SAR's largest chain of centres, California Fitness Centres, was rated middle-of-the-range with LCSD and the Physical Ladies Club. California centres rated highly on facilities and gym equipment, but lost marks on fees and marketing tactics. The poorest all-round performer was judged to be Modern Beauty.