ACT News

Office of Regulatory Services muscles in on misleading advertising at Canberra gyms

The ACT Office of Regulatory Services received 11 complaints regarding misleading conduct by gyms in Canberra during the 12 months before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) placed the fitness industry on notice.

A Justice and Community Safety Directorate spokeswoman said the official complaints related to the deduction of fees after cancelling a membership, unfair contract terms, cancellation fees, misrepresentation and one 24-hour gym operating "without obtaining an exemption".

But while these complaints mirror the ACCC's national concerns regarding misconduct, they pale in comparison with the number of complaints lodged in New South Wales.

NSW Fair Trading received 456 complaints about health clubs and gyms in the past financial year, with roughly half related to cancellations and cooling periods, a fifth involving refunds and just over a tenth about pricing and free concerns.

These figures were an increase on the 422 complaints received during 2012-13, with NSW Fair Trading unable to explain the rise or point to any emerging trend.

The complaints in the ACT and NSW led to the ACCC issuing a warning to gyms and health clubs nationwide that misleading advertising could carry a penalty up to $1.1 million per contravention of consumer law.


ACCC deputy chairman Michael Schaper said the watchdog had been working with industry body Fitness Australia to crack down on gyms using misleading advertising and contracts.

"If a customer sees an offer of 'no contracts', there should be no conditions on terminating the service or further payments required," Dr Schaper said.

"The ACCC understands that using the phrase 'no contracts' may be an attempt by some gyms to distinguish their short-term membership offerings from gyms which offer long-term memberships.

"However, using the phrase does not provide consumers with clarity regarding this distinction."

In a statement, the ACCC said it would "continue to monitor gyms on this issue and will contact gyms identified as engaging in potentially misleading advertising of its membership contracts".

The ACCC has previously taken action on misleading conduct in the fitness industry with a Genesis Fitness Club in Victoria ordered to pay an infringement notice of $6600 in relation to claims made about the cost of membership fees in 2012.

Information obtained under freedom of information revealed the ACT had 42 24-hour gyms in operation when the ACCC warned gyms in July, almost all of which use their licence to stay open all day and night.

There are 15 24-hour Club Lime gyms operating in Canberra at the moment as well as nine Anytime Fitness gyms which operate all-year round.

Most gyms in the ACT that run around the clock have 24-hour surveillance and panic buttons distributed on lanyards for late-night users.

It is not known which 24-hour gym was the subject of a complaint to the Office of Regulatory Services.

Additional reporting by Ben Westcott