The Consumer Council publicly condemned fitness centre California Fitness on Thursday after noting an increase in complaints over the past three years. Some of the complaints concerned customers being coerced into signing up for gym memberships as well as paying for costly fitness trainers.

The consumer watchdog said it received up to 296 complaints related to the gym last year – a 27 per cent increase since 2014. The complaints led to compensation payments totalling HK$28 million.

california fitness
California Fitness Tsim Sha Tsui. Photo: Wikicommons.

Customers described being “pressured or misled” into signing up for membership, while others reported that they were only allowed to leave once having their photo taken to show that they voluntarily became members at the fitness centre. The Consumer Council said that up to half of the complaints were made by new members, and that their lack of experience might make them more susceptible to exploitation.

‘Aggressive commercial practices’ 

“The centre’s sales tactics possibly have constituted a violation of aggressive commercial practices under the Trade Descriptions Ordinance. The council has made 25 referrals to the [Customs and Excise Department] for further investigation; and eight other complaints opted to take legal actions of their own,” said the Consumer Council’s press statement.

Citing the additional 71 complaints received this year, Consumer Council described California Fitness as “uncooperative” after it was urged to improve its customer service earlier this year. The Council thus decided to publicly reprimand the fitness centre in order to protect customers. It is the first time that Consumer Council directly named a fitness centre to condemn their business practices.

The council further called for legislation to introduce a “cooling-off period” in order to improve consumer protection, stating that such rules could be applied to the fitness and beauty industry before being extended to other sectors. Other regions that had implemented mandatory cooling-off regimes include Australia, Canada and Taiwan.

HKFP reached out to California Fitness for comment.

Gene Lin is a Journalism and Computer Science student at The University of Hong Kong. He worked as a reporter for the 'LIVE: Verified Updates' during the Occupy Central protests. He is also an editor at HKU's first English-language student paper, The Lion Post.