'The sauna never worked, the steam room smelt like your worst nightmare'

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The Independent Online

Mark Shepherd and three workmates signed up for a week's trial with a gym in Reading, Berkshire, believing they were taking a no-risk foray into a healthier lifestyle.

Mark Shepherd and three workmates signed up for a week's trial with a gym in Reading, Berkshire, believing they were taking a no-risk foray into a healthier lifestyle.

When he realised his true loyalties lay in the pub and dropped out, he found himself facing demands for £700 and threats of court action.

Mr Shepherd, 39, confesses he did not read the small print on his contract, but insists he was told he was being offered a no-obligation free trial.

"I signed all the forms and was told that if I did not want to continue they would scrap the credit agreement. It was a very nice girl and it all seemed very professional, so I had no worries at all. But we decided we couldn't be bothered after the week and I told them I didn't want to do it," he said.

Mr Shepherd, who worked for an IT publishing company in Reading, said he cancelled his direct debit. When the first payment was due he received a letter asking why he had not paid.

After he explained that he had decided not to continue, he was told he had to pay the full £700 yearly fees. He was then sent a letter from a credit collection agency warning him that unless he paid up he would be credit blacklisted and would face court action.

"I thought I was paying by instalments and did not realise it was a finance company," he said. "The whole experience put me off gyms, but I did go back to a council sports centre where you just join for £5 and pay as you go. The people there were much more helpful than in the private gym."

Mellony Carr, 24, was left similarly disillusioned after she signed up for a gym that cost £40 a month in Southgate, north London, when she was a drama student at Middlesex University two years ago.

She went for six weeks but said conditions at the gym had deteriorated so much by that point that she did not want to go back and asked to be released from her contract.

"The first couple of times I went it was fine, and then suddenly it all seemed to break," she said. "The sauna never worked, no toilet paper, there was no shower gel, the steam room smelt like your worst nightmare."

As she had signed the contract, there was nothing she could do and had to keep paying for the rest of the year.

"I wanted to get fit and healthy but I got stressed out and really upset because I felt I had wasted so much money," she said. "I have looked at other private clubs and have thought about joining, but then I think, 'I wasted a year's money.' I'd rather go to the public baths now."

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