OFT investigation offers hope to gym members caught in 'unfair' long contracts

LA Fitness forced Anna Harding to pay £35 a month for membership of a gym it was impossible for her to use. She's not the only victim of what the Office of Fair Trading believes could be "unfair contracts". But the good news is that the practice could soon end.

Anna had joined a branch of LA Fitness in Wigan but was then offered a job in Newcastle. With no LA Fitness branch in her new City she explained the situation and tried to cancel her membership. But the firm told her she would have to pay £200 to get out of her contract. Rather than splash out such a large sum, Anna, 24, kept the membership up , hoping that she could find someone to transfer it to. But she had no luck, and was eventually left £210 out of pocket.

"Paying that money meant I couldn't go to any gym for six months as I couldn't afford another membership on my wage," Anna said. "Something needs to change to stop this happening as it's so unfair."

LA Fitness refused to comment on Anna's case but it – along with other gym chains such as Virgin Active and Fitness First – may soon be forced to scrap long-term inflexible contracts.

The OFT has launched an investigation and warned gyms that that their contracts may be in breach of the Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

It also warned that fitness firms' business practices may fall under the Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.

The OFT said it would reveal details of its investigations later this year. But it could take a lead from a new breed of low-cost gyms such as PureGym, The Gym Group, FitSpace and Klick Fitness which don't tie people into long-term contracts.

Gym Group chief, John Treharne, said: "Offering flexible membership terms allows people to come and go as they please. We embrace the fact that people need to change fitness habits to fall in line with other events."

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