Sales call from gym leads to contract nightmare

Virgin Active accused of sharp practice over joining offer

 

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When Chiswick resident Paul Jarman received an unsolicited phone call inviting him to visit the Virgin Active Health Club he saw little reason to refuse the opportunity. However, his acceptance of the apparently 'no strings' offer involved him in a complicated contractual agreement which he still has yet to fully resolve.

In a bid to attract new members, Virgin Active has initiated a 'try before you buy' policy in which they call people in the area offering the chance to use the club's facilities for the afternoon. Once on the site an introductory offer of a month's heavily discounted membership will be made with no commitment required.

Mr. Jarman found it difficult to resist the offer. He said, "With kids running around, swimming gear everywhere, and a queue of people waiting behind me, I hurriedly signed up for my cheap month's membership. Perhaps I should have paid more attention when I was asked to complete a direct debit to pay for my month's membership - credit cards and cheques were not acceptable. Plus I was asked to give a £40 deposit for our smart cards that gave us to access the club."

He had assumed that a month meant a month but the small print on the contract on the back of the form stated that cancellations could only be notified before the 15th of each month after which you become obliged to pay for at least three months at the full rate. Mr. Jarman has no recollection of this condition being highlighted to him.

Three weeks into the month's membership, having been to the club only twice, his family decided not to continue with the membership. He called to cancel only to be told he had just missed the mid month deadline for cancellation and was now on an automatic three month notice period, the direct debit he had signed automatically paying the full price and unwanted subscription. To add insult to injury the £40 'deposit' for the smart cards required to gain access to the club that he wanted to return was actually non-refundable.

Mr. Jarman did not let the matter rest. "Disgusted, I then spent several days making exhausting telephone calls to various Virgin Active managers and area directors until I lost the will to live. While Virgin eventually saw sense and cancelled the three month contract - they have still refused to return the £40 deposit for my smart cards."

He had previously taken up a similar offer with the Park Club and found it straightforward not to proceed with taking up membership. His message to other families in the area is "when Virgin Active call to say 'hi' - hang up."

We contacted Virgin Active and asked them to clarify some of the issues raised about their sales policies but they have yet to respond. According to the charging provisions which Virgin signed when granted the lease to the site of the club they are not allow to require any one joining to be a member for any period longer than one month.

November 27, 2005