Before you sign up to a gym membership or fitness service shop around and make sure you read the terms and conditions of the membership contract to avoid disappointments later.

There are several industry bodies that represent the health and fitness industry which have codes of practice and other guidance for their members. For example, Fitness Australia is a national representative body for the health and fitness industry in Australia. If a gym is a member, they should display a current certificate and comply with the Fitness Industry Code of Practice.

Gym memberships

Before you sign up to a gym membership you should be aware of the following:

Shop around

Don’t be pressured into signing up on the spot. Visit a number of gyms to work out which is the best value for money, has the best facilities, service and location. Consider trying a casual membership for a month or a few visits to see if the gym is right for you.

Be cautious of ‘great deals’

Be wary of special offers, promotions and verbal promises. Some deals may not be as good as they seem, once you read the fine print.

Read the fine print

Never take the salesperson’s word for it. Always take the gym contract home and read all the terms and conditions before you sign it. Know what you’re getting into before you commit. Check the fees listed on the contract are the same as the price that has been quoted to you. Also check if there are any the administration fees. These are non-refundable even if you cancel the contract during the cooling-off period.

Check the cooling-off period

Check if the contract has a cooling-off period. A cooling-off period allows you to cancel the membership in writing within a limited time period.

Where will you be in 6 to 12 months?

The gym may not be easy to access if you change jobs, work different hours or move house. Consider a three or six-month membership – they are often no more expensive than a 12-month one.

Direct debit payments

Lots of gyms ask for payments by direct debit. Just because your membership expires doesn’t mean the direct debits stop. You often need to provide the gym with 30 days written notice to stop the direct debit deductions. Check the contract before you sign. If the fitness centre continues taking payments, talk to your financial institution.

Cancelling your membership

If you need to cancel your membership, check your contract first. Even if the contract requires you to visit the centre to cancel in person, you should still cancel in writing. This means you can prove the date you requested the membership to end. Remember, a membership means you have a binding agreement and you may have difficulty cancelling early. Some gyms charge up to $300 for cancelling a membership, so read the terms and conditions in your contract before you sign.

If things go wrong

If you have a dispute with a gym, check if it’s a member of Fitness Australia. If the gym is a member, Fitness Australia will help negotiate your dispute if you write to them. If the gym is not a member of Fitness Australia or you cannot resolve the issue, call Fair Trading on 13 32 20 for help.

Example: Vanessa heard about an offer for a two-week ‘obligation free’ trial for a gym and decided to try it out. In order to get the free trial the gym staff asked Vanessa to fill out a form which included her credit card details. She was assured that she would not be charged if she decided not to join the gym after the two-week trial ended.

Two weeks later Vanessa decided not to join the gym. She called the gym to let them know but later realised that they had still charged her credit card a $60 monthly membership fee. She spoke to the gym manager who told her that the form she signed was a membership contract and could not be cancelled.

Vanessa called Fair Trading, who explained her rights and how to get the gym to refund her money. Vanessa followed the advice and got all her money back and her membership cancelled.

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