Cooling-off period in payment contracts is just common sense

Rising number of complaints against the California Fitness chain only reinforce the need for the government to take action

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 10:09pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 May, 2016, 10:09pm

Our repeated approaches to California Fitness did not succeed in eliciting any comment on strong criticism of its sales practices by the Consumer Council, so we don’t know its side of the story. But the other side does not look good. It has prompted the council to “name and shame” a fitness centre for the first time for intimidating and misleading consumers into buying memberships and expensive private lessons and for an “uncooperative attitude”.

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han says that after the watchdog met with California Fitness management in January to express dissatisfaction, sales practices actually became more aggressive.

Last year, complaints lodged with the council against the Asia-based chain, which runs nine centres in Hong Kong, rose 30 per cent to 296, which accounted for 51 per cent of all the complaints the council received. The total amount involved, HK$8.5 million, was a 20 per cent increase on the previous year.

We have commented on particular cases before, including those raised by labour sector lawmaker Bill Tang Ka-piu, who said recently he had received 15 complaints about two big fitness chains focusing on selling memberships and specific courses to intellectually disabled people.

It is absurd that people pressured into prepaying – or even agreeing to prepay – six-figure sums for fitness memberships and courses find themselves trying to get all or some of their money back.

This newspaper has previously lamented the missed opportunity to include a cooling-off period in amendments to the trade descriptions law. They are a common safeguard in some other payment contracts. The government told lawmakers a cooling-off period needed further consultation to find a consensus. If fitness centres or the wider business community do not want one, the industry should put its house in order. The watchdog’s report shows the need for a greater sense of urgency.