Gym with Mississauga locations continues charging members despite the fact facilities are closed
While the last 12 months have been challenging for everyone, they have been especially difficult for fitness enthusiasts.
When the pandemic was declared in March 2020, many regions took immediate measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, this included closing many businesses deemed non-essential and gyms were one of the early casualties.
However, while the inability to workout has been frustrating for many, the frustration has been two-fold for some gymgoers who have been unable to workout and have had to continue paying for their memberships.
Despite the fact facilities were ordered to close, one gym with locations in the GTA elected to continue charging members monthly dues unless they specifically requested their payments be put on hold.
Wynn Fitness, which has three locations in the GTA including Mississauga (there used to be six, but two closed due to changes in property management, and one closed due to the pandemic), elected to continue charging members under contract while the facilities were closed.
Not all members were charged during this time--those with memberships that had exceeded the initial, one-year term had their accounts automatically suspended.
But those still under contract were informed by email they would have to contact head office to have their payments suspended--the gym wouldn't do it automatically for them.
"Our contracts are issued for one year, and all payments are payable. Once the pandemic began, we required the member email us and confirm that they were okay with deferring their payments and that they understood that it would change the terms of their contract--something we were obligated to do under the Consumer Protection Act (CPA)," Ruth Smith, member service and training manager for Wynn Fitness, said in an interview with insauga.com.
"Members who didn't notify us and ask for their payments to be deferred would still have been billed for the months the gyms were closed."
According to Smith, members who were charged while the gym was closed will get a credit for the time they paid for in the future, when gyms are once again permitted to open.
"Members who paid for seven months during the closure will be able to use the facilities for free for seven months once gyms reopen," she says.
However, the gym's decision to continue charging people when they can't use the facilities frustrated some members, including Mississauga resident Claudia Gilbert.
"I don't understand why Wynn, in the midst of a global pandemic, has continued to charge people, some of whom may not be able to afford to pay, when the facilities aren't even open," Gilbert says.
"My husband and I initially got a membership with Wynn because he wanted to use their basketball court, and our other gym doesn't have one," Gilbert says. "However, with how they have treated us during the pandemic, we just want to cancel our membership and be done with them."
According to Smith, Wynn followed standard industry practice.
"All gyms required members provide consent before deferring payments, as this would change the terms of their contract," she says.
However, that was not the case for GoodLife Fitness, one of the country's most popular fitness companies.
"All GoodLife members, regardless of their membership or contract type, were placed on freeze automatically once our clubs closed due to the lockdown," Adam Roberts, a public relations manager with Goodlife, says.
"Members did not have to request the freeze when their clubs closed; we implemented the freeze for them. We also informed them via email that the freeze would stay in place until our clubs reopened."
According to Smith, not requiring members to provide consent before freezing their accounts would be a violation of the CPA.
"Under the CPA, you cannot change the terms of an agreement, so if a gym did do this, they weren't in compliance with the act," she says.
However, Aaron Meng, managing partner of a law firm with offices in Mississauga and Toronto, disagrees.
"The decision to suspend payments or not is entirely up to the gym--they are not obligated to do so, but they are also not forbidden from doing so under the CPA," he says. "The CPA is intended to protect consumers, so how is it doing that by forcing businesses to make consumers jump through hoops to avoid paying for a service they're not even receiving?"
While Smith initially said the reason the gym didn't just automatically freeze members' accounts was because they couldn't under the CPA, and every other gym was doing the same, during a second interview with insauga.com, she said it was a decision the gym made on its own.
"We as a business took it upon ourselves to say we want the buyers to authorize the deferral," she says.
However, while Wynn members haven't had their payments automatically suspended, they are still capable of having them suspended... as long as they contact head office.
"When the pandemic started, our members were informed they could have their payments suspended if they emailed the address provided and requested it," Smith says.
Smith also pointed out that Wynn's website has a list of instructions for how members can have their accounts frozen under the "COVID-19 Update" section--this includes an email address members were instructed to contact to have their payments frozen.
Additionally, Smith believes everyone who asked to have their payments deferred had their request honoured.
"Under my understanding, everyone was deferred if they asked for it," she says.
This was not the case for Gilbert.
When she spoke to a representative from her gym, the location at Meadowvale in Mississauga, Gilbert was told she was unable to have payments deferred, and she would have to continue paying until the contract was up.
While Gilbert was unaware of this, her club would have known the process for having payments suspended, and could have provided this information to Gilbert, according to Smith.
"There shouldn't be a disconnect. Our staff all know the protocols," Smith says. "If a member was told that they couldn't freeze their memberships, that would be incorrect."
Danya Saleh is another Wynn Fitness member who was told she did not have the option to have her account frozen when she inquired about it.
"I asked them many, many times to freeze my account and stop charging me while the gym was closed, but they refused. I spoke to many different people, but it was always the same result," Saleh says.
"When I asked to have my account frozen, I was told payments couldn't be paused because I was under contract with them, and I would get a credit I could use once the gyms were permitted to open again."
According to Smith, all Wynn Fitness members received an email with instructions regarding how they could have their accounts suspended, if they chose to do so. However, Gilbert and Saleh both said they never received this email.
"I was never informed about a way to have payments frozen when I spoke to someone from head office. I asked if I could speak to anyone else regarding my situation, but I was told I could not," Gilbert says.
Out of frustration, Gilbert inquired about just cancelling her membership--because she was under contract, she expected she would have to pay a fee, but when she asked a representative from the gym how she could cancel her account, she was informed she would have to prove she was moving out of the area.
"We were told the only way we could cancel our membership was by providing proof that we had a new address," she says.
According to Smith, this is a term of the contract specific to the Meadowvale location.
"One of the terms that are part of the contracts offered by our Meadowvale location is that, in order to have their membership cancelled, members must move 25 km away from the nearest club," she says.
Saleh was also critical of how Wynn has treated her since the onset of the pandemic.
"I don't understand why they wouldn't just freeze payments--we are currently experiencing a pandemic; people are losing their jobs and everyone else has been providing support and freezing payments, even my bank loan was put on hold. Yet, Wynn has continued to charge people, even while the gyms are closed," she says.
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