How to end your gym membership the inexpensive way

Circumstance often dictates the necessity of having to cancel a gym membership, but how open to cancellations are gyms and what are your rights? Hennie Pretorius investigates.

The excitement of signing-up for a gym membership is often short lived after realising the effort and time it takes to workout. However, some have a genuine need to terminate their membership early while others just have buyer’s remorse.

A valid reason for terminating a contract includes relocating. Some of the larger gyms such as Virgin Active try to be as accommodating as possible, offering transfers as an alternative to cancelling the contract. However, this is not always an option and the consequences to cancelling your gym membership can be an expensive exercise.

Certain gyms are more accommodating than others

Jobst Olschewski, owner of Cape CrossFit, and part owner of Cape CrossFit Foreshore and Cape CrossFit Newlands, says for members relocating more than 50kms away, there is no cancellation fee.

“If someone finds in the first month that the membership does not suit him, he can cancel within that period at no charge,” adds Olschewski.

CrossFit also offers a ‘freeze’ option. So if for example you are injured or cannot afford the payments for a certain period of time, the membership can be ‘frozen’ for the specified timeframe at no extra charge.

“Besides the above ‘free’ cancellation options, the maximum cancellation fee on a new agreement is one calendar month of charges,” says Olschewski.

Virgin Active

Virgin Active also offers the freeze option. They would prefer looking at alternative options to cancelling but if you insist on cancelling they offer a way out.

“Should one of our members wish to cancel and they are within their initial contract period, they are required to pay a 30% cancellation fee based on the remaining balance of the contract.

“If a member is in their auto renewal period they need to provide us with 20 business days’ notice to cancel their contract,” says Robyn Jonathan, customer care specialist for Virgin Active, South Africa.

Know your rights

Knowing your rights before entering into an agreement is wise. It will not only save you money in the long run, but it will also make you consider the seriousness of the decision you are about to make.

“The CPA (Consumer Protection Act) requires all terms be made known to consumers before they enter into agreement and adverse terms be brought to the attention of consumers before they sign,” says Neville Melville, Consumer Goods and Services Ombudsman.

Melville also wrote the book ‘The Consumer Protection Act Made Easy’ and co-authored ‘Know your Consumer Rights’.

Length of contract

According to Melville, the maximum period of a fixed-term agreement is 24 months from the date of signing the contract unless a longer period is specified and agreed upon by all parties involved.

If a longer period of time is offered, the service provider needs to be able to provide a financial benefit to the consumer for taking out a contract longer than 24 months.

Cold feet period

If the contract arose from direct marketing, you are allowed to cancel within five business working days. The notice needs to be in writing or in some form where it is possible to record the notice.

“As the public saw from the Oscar trial, evidence is everything. [It is] a lot more difficult to prove what was said during a cell phone call, but [it is] of some value if you have a billing record of the call,” says Melville.

This period extends to seven working days after the date of receipt of the goods or product if the goods or product was purchased via electronic communications.

What if you don’t get a response?

You have a right to cancel but you need to accept the consequences: “You have a right to cancel subject to payment of a reasonable cancellation fee,” says Melville.

However, at times it may seem as if you are not having any ‘luck’ cancelling. If this is the case, make sure you have all the evidence of your attempts to cancel.

“Proving the date of first notification of cancellation would impact on showing that [the] supplier had plenty of time to resell the goods or services,” says Melville.

If all attempts fail you can lay a complaint with the ombudsman. Visit the Consumer Goods & Services Ombud’s website for more info.