Each week former trading standards officer Richard Thomson answers your questions.
Q I’ve been having a bit of a set to with a gym. I went to cancel my membership, but the management said I’d have to pay 11 months membership up front as a penalty for breach of contract as my membership had just been automatically renewed for another year. Is this legal?
A Most gyms want to lock you into long-term membership and usually have ‘small print’ legally binding terms and conditions that automatically roll over your membership renewal from one year until the next.
There’s usually a clause which says you have to take the initiative three months or so before the renewal anniversary to tell the gym if you want to part company with them. They rely on customer inertia to automatically take you into a further year’s membership.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that the Office of Fair Trading has awoken from its slumbers and has now taken action to enforce the law in the shape of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations. It has got the High Court to rule that ‘small print’ clauses in gym contracts which aim to lock you in to contract for a year or more are unenforceable, and clients have the right to cancel membership without penalty.
Q I ordered a silver pendant chain which cost me £85.99 including post and packing from the Bradford Exchange. From the newspaper ad it looked a respectable size, but when I received the pendant it was minuscule. There was no size shown in the ad, so I believe they may be breaking the Trade Descriptions Act. Do I have a case to follow through?
A After looking at a copy of the trader’s newspaper advertisement I became increasingly convinced you’re going to get stuck with your purchase. The ad cleverly avoids indicating the size of the pendant, so for that reason alone you could not hope to make a claim stick for applying a false trade description. Call me cynical, but I venture a pound to a penny the firm deliberately didn’t describe the size of the pendant for the very reason that if they did they might well fall foul of unfair trading law.
QI bought an Acer laptop from PC World just over a year ago. During that time it stopped working on two occasions and PC World sent it back to Acer for repairs. Now the same problem has occurred again, but Acer is saying that because it’s out of guarantee they won’t repair it again. Where do I stand please?
A As times get more difficult for retailers, many of them are resorting to hiding behind product guarantees (see main story on this page) to deprive buyers of their statutory rights for defective products. A product guarantee is in addition to your right to have defective goods replaced, repaired, or your money back. Whether the defective merchandise is out of guarantee is irrelevant.
Go back to the store and don’t take no for an answer.