Work your body not your wallet

You might want to shed the festive pounds but don't let joining a gym cost you too much. Sophie Hazan reports.

JOINING the January rush of newly-signed up gym goers could

compromise your financial fitness once the novelty wears off.

So make sure you read the small print before making that New Year resolution to get fit come true, warns West Yorkshire Trading Standards.

Consumers are often unaware the contract they sign includes binding terms and conditions, and in some instances a fixed term credit agreement.

Others are so keen to get out of a contract they ignore the rules and end up being penalised.

Once a gym contract has been signed it is often for a set period of 12 or 24 months and cannot be simply disregarded if you no longer wish to use the services.

Richard Langley, of Kellet Lane, Leeds, was shocked when he was told to pay almost 400 to cancel his two year gym contract.

The 20-year-old stopped his direct debit payments to the fitness centre in July after learning that it had relocated to an address further away then he was prepared to travel. Now debt collectors are chasing him for money.

Elaine McKone, team leader at the government's consumer advice line Consumer Direct, said: "This is quite a common complaint. We'd first advise someone to check the terms and conditions and see if it mentions anything about a relocation.

"If it says nothing and the new gym is located an unreasonable distance away then a member is entitled to cancel as you can't always assume that someone has transport."

She added: "I would never advise someone to simply cancel their direct debit - you must come to some agreement with your gym first or a company will simply send in a debt collector.

"It's the old adage that two wrongs don't make a right.

"Read your contract, follow the complaints procedure and if you still aren't getting anywhere put your complaints into writing. You can always argue your case at court."

Helen Robson from Cookridge suspended her gym membership in December but is now being chased for 66.

The school teacher, who was signed off sick from work in November, cancelled her direct debit but was told by her club that she had not done it in time and owed money for December/January.

Ms Robson argues that having been a paying member for 12 years that the gym should be more sympathetic to the fact that she is now not working and cannot afford to pay.

Ms McKone said: "If you leave the emotion to one side then purely legally and on a contractual basis the gym is right and Ms Robson is wrong.

"Anything else that the gym do for her is as a gesture of goodwill. They don't have to do anything legally, but might want to do something for customer relations and reputation."

She added: "Always check your contract with a gym for their sickness policy as you often have a right to cancel with the correct medical certificate."

Before signing up for a gym membership consumers are advised to:

Read the terms and conditions of the membership contract carefully before signing. Don't be pressured into signing the contract quickly – take it away and read it at your leisure;

Remember that if you take out a credit agreement over the telephone or online you are entitled to a 14 working day 'cooling off' period;

Note that if the gym fails to provide the services agreed to in the contract you might be entitled to cancel the membership early;

Always put a request to cancel a contract in writing and send by Recorded Delivery;

Keep paying even if there is a dispute. Inform the bank and gym that you are paying under protest, but don't stop paying monthly direct debit payments until your membership has concluded.

Driven off the rails by train price hikes

HUGE rail fare hikes take effect this week prompting a pressure group warning that extra costs will drive people off trains and onto the road.

But the taxman is also waiting at the fuel pump after a 0.76p increase in duty and a VAT 20 per cent hike due tomorrow bring the average fuel price to a tyre-deflating 122p per litre.

On average season ticket holders will see prices rise by 5.8 per cent, which means that the reality could be much more for individual travellers. In 2010 companies had to apply equal rises on all regulated fares.

But now they can rise fares by varying amounts as long as the average does not exceed the Government 5.8 per cent limit.

Mike Crowhurst of the pressure group Railfuture said: "We think this is hugely unfair.

"I don't think motorists or airline passengers will be suffering price hikes like this.

"Rail fares in Britain are already amongst the highest in Europe and we think this will just drive even more people on to the roads, which will result in even more congestion and pollution.

"The Government claims to have a green agenda, so it must not discourage people from using the greenest transport.

"During the election they said they would end the war on the motorist. Now it looks like they're declaring war on the rail passenger."

Leeds rail passenger Bob Knell spotted that East Coast rail has put up its cheapest single advance fare between Leeds and London from 10 to 13.

He said: "It is still cheap maybe, but an inflation-busting 30 per cent increase."

Cash splash to beat VAT

Nearly two out of five adults brought forward major planned purchases in a bid to beat the planned VAT rise.

More than 12.4 million adults are likely to have made a last minute dash to the shops ahead of a tax rise from 17.5 per cent to 20 per cent, revealed new figures from independent research firm ConsumerIntelligence.com.

Electronic equipment such as TVs or computers are at the top of shopping lists along with home improvements.

Only slightly more than one in 10 adults admitted that they were unaware of the increase.

EP 3/1/11