Two fitness clubs hit by complaints

SINGAPORE - Singapore's consumer watchdog has flagged two fitness clubs for the high number of complaints filed against them over the past three years.

Grouses against California Fitness and True Fitness made up more than three-quarters of 86 complaints involving fitness clubs filed last year, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case).

Thirty-five complaints were against California Fitness, which opened its first club here more than 10 years ago, and 31 against True Group, which owns the True Fitness chain.

The two clubs have not fared better this year: Out of 29 complaints filed against fitness clubs as of April, nine involved California Fitness and 13 were against True.

This even though the total number of such complaints fell from 95 in 2011 to 86 last year.

Disagreements over membership fees made up most of the complaints, said Case executive director Seah Seng Choon.

Some involved consumers who wished to terminate their memberships because of medical or personal reasons but were either not allowed to do so, had to pay a termination fee or were refused a refund.

Others had their membership renewed automatically without their knowledge, or were pressurised by staff to sign up for a longer package than they had wanted.

California Fitness, which operates four clubs here, declined to comment when approached by The Sunday Times.

But a spokesman for True said it is aware of the complaints received by Case and has since made membership termination policies more flexible.

From January last year to May this year, for instance, True approved 315 membership suspensions due to medical reasons, said the spokesman. Five members were also given refunds after they terminated their True memberships.

The wellness chain has about 40,000 active members across 11 True Fitness and True Yoga clubs.

The spokesman, commenting on the complaints against True, said there are bound to be disgruntled customers, especially for service-related businesses with a sizeable customer base.

Mr Amos Tan, a marketing and retail lecturer at Singapore Polytechnic, said both California Fitness and True operate in a "very competitive" business.

The clubs should offer consumers more clarity when it comes to membership rates, he added.

"A lot of the gyms do different things to attract customers, such as by having different referral schemes and rates," said Mr Tan. "It's complicated, no one knows exactly what the standard rates are."

Members like Mr B. Wong, who used to go to clubs run by California Fitness and True, agree.

They say the clubs should consider making membership rates more transparent.

"Gym members talk among themselves and more often than not, we hear all sorts of different rates and the disparity can be quite high," said the 36-year-old businessman. "Perhaps they should consider putting up their rates, joining or termination fees, so everyone can see them upfront, and not hide behind wordy contracts."

Consumers, however, have the right to seek redress under the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act if misleading or false claims are made by clubs, said Mr Seah from Case.

But to avoid confusion and disputes, consumers should have agreements in writing, and read through all the details in the contract carefully, he added.

This article was first published on June 29, 2014.
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