Gyms told to refund memberships

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Gyms told to refund memberships

Eighteen fitness centers in Seoul have been ordered to reimburse customers who cancel their membership before it is due to expire despite having paid for the service in advance.

The Fair Trade Commission said yesterday that the health clubs had either been refusing to refund the sign-up fees or applied heavy penalties to those who decided to end their contract prematurely.

From now on, customers will be able to cancel their contracts at anytime if they have been members for more than one month and obtain refunds for the remaining period minus a 10 percent penalty, the FTC said.

Of the 18 gyms in question, 11 voluntarily modified their membership policy after the watchdog began its probe. They include Applegym Fitness, World Gym, La Folium, Body & Soul Sports Club, Applegym Gangseo, K2 Korea and Noble Fitness Center.

The other seven, including IGYM, Orient Sports Club and Bodystar Fitness Club, have been ordered to follow suit or face penalties.

Public discontent with local gyms’ inflexible approaches to memberships has been mounting in recent years, with more official complaints lodged with the Korea Consumer Agency each year. It received 391 in 2008 and 523 in 2010. Figures for last year were not available.

In one recent case, an officer worker paid 840,000 won ($750) for an annual membership with a fitness center last September but decided to end the contract early because he felt the standard of service was slipping. He requested a refund for the remaining months but was denied.

Another customer signed a six-month contract last August and paid 480,000 won with his credit card. Two months later he decided to cancel the contract and was told that he could receive about 90,000 won back after all the penalties had been factored in.

According to the standard contract at Korean gyms, members cannot in principle cancel their contracts unless there are unavoidable causes, such as a natural disaster, emigration or hospitalization.

Even when contracts are cancelled, members are required to pay a penalty equivalent to three months’ membership.

The FTC said its new guidelines for gyms also apply to other services related to the health and beauty industry, as well as online educational programs and subscriptions for educational periodicals.

By Limb Jae-un []

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