The fitness centre Elixia has revised its agreements by amending the provisions that have proved unlawful and problematic for consumers. The Consumer Ombudsman expects other fitness centres operating in Finland to follow the example set by Elixia.
Over the years, the Finnish consumer authorities have been frequently contacted in matters concerning agreements made with fitness centres. It is not always sufficiently clearly stated in the agreements what the customers are obliged to do and for how long. Sometimes it has also been difficult to cancel the agreement even if the customer had good grounds for doing so (such as illness or moving to another locality). Moreover, not all fitness centres have posted their prices on their websites even though the law says that they should be easily accessible on the Internet.
In order to improve the situation, the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman drew up guidelines on the contractual terms of fitness centres in 2011. Even though there are still fitness centres in Finland that do not observe the principles set out in the guidelines, a number of operators have changed their contractual terms and marketing practices in accordance with the requirements of the Consumer Ombudsman.
The latest of them is Elixia. Until now, it has not been sufficiently clear from its contractual terms how long the agreement would be in effect or what the customer is obliged to do under the agreement. The company has now clarified the matter in its contractual terms and on its website.
Previously, cancelling the agreement was unreasonably difficult because the customer had to do it in person in the fitness centre. Moreover, the customers were only able to cancel the agreement in the middle of the agreement period if they were moving to a locality with no Elixia fitness centre or had a disability lasting for at least 12 months.
Now Elixia customers can also cancel the agreement by e-mail or on a form that they send by post. Customers may also terminate a fixed-term agreement on the basis of other unforeseen situations, such as unemployment or pregnancy.
Like many other fitness centres, Elixia has also attracted customers by offering free training periods. In reality, the offer has only applied to customers who also commit themselves to a fixed-term agreement of 12 or 24 months. Elixia has announced that it will stop such marketing, which is in violation of the Finnish Consumer Protection Act.
The Finnish Consumer Ombudsman expects those fitness centres whose contractual terms and marketing practices are not yet in accordance with the guidelines to follow the example set by Elixia. The Consumer Ombudsman also views it as a positive development that in more and more fitness centres customers are not required to enter into agreements of long duration but are also offered cards that are valid for one month or that entitle them to ten sessions. This provides consumers with more opportunities to flexibly use and change fitness centres according to their own needs.
Finnish Consumer Ombudsman's guidelines concerning contractual terms of fitness centres (in Finnish)
Information to consumers on fitness centre membership agreements