Consumer Council

Woman was pestered into paying HK$4.3m to join Hong Kong gym

Consumer Council reveals she was also talked into signing up for 3,381 hours with a personal trainer – which would have taken 19 years to complete

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 9:17pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 January, 2017, 10:56pm

A 36-year-old woman paid HK$4.3 million for a gym chain membership and 3,381 hours of personal training after being constantly pestered by sales staff.

The Consumer Council, which revealed on Wednesday that complaints about health clubs shot up 189 per cent last year, said the amount involved was the highest it had ever recorded in such a case.

Chairman Professor Wong Yuk-shan said the woman agreed to the deal in 2013 and signed 54 contracts after several staff members took turns to work on her using various sales methods, such as the offer of discounts.

But she managed to complete only 500 hours by June 2015 and worked out that if she spent three hours a week at the gym it would take her 19 years to finish the sessions.

The woman then demanded the chain return about HK$3.8 million for the remaining time, Wong said.

According to the council, which declined to name the fitness centre, the woman had been pursuing her case via legal means.

“The problems with consumption with pre-payment cannot be left unsolved,” Wong said. “We encourage the government to pay attention to this issue.”

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said the government should study the experiences of overseas countries and introduce a compulsory cooling-off period to allow consumers to rethink and cancel contracts unconditionally for pre-paid services.

About 70 per cent of the 1,667 complaints about fitness centres were related to the closure of California Fitness last year. The company owed 64,000 members and 700 former employees more than HK$100 million.

But the council found that even after excluding the California complaints, the number still increased by 16 per cent from 2015.

The number of complaints against beauty services, another pre-payment area, had dropped 10 per cent to 1,239, but complaints related to medical beauty services went up 70 per cent.

In one case a woman paid over HK$40,000 for laser treatment to remove leg hair but ended up with serious burns that needed medical treatment for six months.

In another case a woman preparing for her wedding paid HK$6,880 for facial filling injections to remove her dark circles, but the material later drifted to her nose.

The overall number of complaints to the council dropped by 8 per cent to 25,098.