Why Fitness First are putting their customers second
From January 4th we’ll all be paying slightly more for pretty much everything we buy. The VAT rise from 17.5% to 20% represents about 21p extra on every £10 we spend. But if you’re a member of Fitness First health clubs and gyms, you’ll be paying a whole lot more.
Avid Bitterwallet reader Danny currently pays £36.95 per month for his Fitness First membership. The VAT rise should have pushed that up by around 79p to £37.74 per month from January. But Fitness First have increased it by £5.55 to £42.50 per month. That’s a 15% hike. And some Fitness First members are facing even steeper price rises of up to 30%.
Fitness First told Danny in a letter:
“As you may be aware the government is planning to increase VAT in January to 20%, and this combined with rising costs means we have had to review our prices, in order that we can continue to deliver the quality and service you expect. This letter is to notify you that we will be increasing your monthly membership. This will apply to your monthly Direct Debit payment from 1st January 2011.”
“One significant point is that the letter was dated 30th November 2010 and posted second class,” says Danny. “Fitness First insist that you give them a calendar month’s notice [to cancel your membership], so have deliberately timed these letters so that you were contractually obligated to pay at least your first payment at the new rate. I will personally be cancelling my Direct Debit and paying nothing further to them.”
Fitness First cite the VAT rise “combined with rising costs” as the reason for the price rises. According to Danny, at his local gym Sky Sports has been replaced with Freeview, the juice bar has been replaced with jugs of squash, and opening hours have been reduced. So the company can hardly claim that the rises are so they can “continue to deliver the quality and service you expect”.
There are lots of other complaints about the Fitness First price rises over at the HUKD forum. Pobbyone complains about a price hike of 25% from £39.95 to £49.90. And MarlyMarls reports a price rise of more than 30%, from £31.50 to £43.20.
“I have been a member at Fitness First since 2002,” says MarlyMarls. “I started with a membership of £25 a month and there are has been a steady increase every year of between 50p to a £1.00.” This latest increase of £11.70 per month, or £140.40 per year, was simply too much, so MarlyMarl rang Fitness First to cancel his membership. But, as in Danny’s case, there was not enough time to give a month’s notice. MarlyMarl was told he would need to arrange an appointment at his local gym to go in cancel his membership, and he would still be charged £43.20 in January as he had not given sufficient notice. “I was then told if I cancel my Direct Debit and they don’t receive their payment on the 1st of January of £43.20 they would add on £25 for non-payment and then send it to a debt collector.”
Surely Fitness First would be quick to address its members’ concerns? Nope. The company told Bitterwallet: “Fitness First isn’t commenting the on the price increase.”
It’s traditional for gyms to reduce fees in January to attract new members. Fitness First members might be better off elsewhere, for the sake of their financial health if nothing else.