SINGAPORE, Sept 9 — For a few months, disgruntled members of two fitness studios have been trying to secure refunds after they continued to be charged even after they said they asked to terminate or put their memberships on hold.
Nine complaints have been lodged with the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) against F45 Training Yio Chu Kang and the unopened F45 Training Geylang Bahru.
Responding to TODAY’s queries, the police confirmed that one gym member had made a police report.
The gym operators have started issuing more refunds in recent days after one unhappy member set up an Instagram page to air her frustrations and attracted more than 40 members with similar grievances.
When TODAY visited the studio at Yio Chu Kang at 1pm yesterday (September 8), a man who declined to have his name published had just finished teaching a class. He identified himself as the former owner who stepped down two months ago and is now only teaching classes.
Checks by TODAY showed that his name is listed among the registered owners of two firms that operate the gyms.
He admitted to having a “lack of communication” with customers, adding that he and the studios’ three other partners are in the midst of “restructuring”.
“The entire team will get a new management team to come to do a whole restructuring and to give better communication to all members,” he said.
The Yio Chu Kang outlet is owned by JDAA Private Limited, which was incorporated in August 2019.
Based on the contract for members of the Geylang Bahru outlet seen by TODAY, it is owned by JDA Fitness Private Limited, which was incorporated in January this year.
When asked about the situation of the Geylang Bahru gym, originally due to open in March, the man said that it is now slated to start operating in October.
“We have faced many delays (getting) approval, licensing, things like that. We didn’t have an update ourselves so, of course, we can provide them with an update that says that we don’t have an update but we understand we could have done a better job,” he told TODAY.
He said that the delay in providing refunds boils down to “mismanagement”. “At the end of the day, we won’t create an excuse for it. What we are trying to do is to salvage the situation.”
When TODAY visited the Geylang Bahru studio, neighbouring tenants said that they have noticed workmen at the site “once in a while”, most recently last month. They have not heard construction noises or seen gym equipment being moved into the space.
At about 2.30pm, F45 Training Geylang Bahru issued an apology on its Instagram page, noting its “lack of communication and updates”. It also urged members who are seeking a refund to email the gym.
Operators of fitness studios have been hit by various restrictions since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and they have been forced to close their doors during various periods.
The latest official advisory from the authorities, as of September 2, is that gyms and fitness studios can host mask-off activities in groups of up to five if all individuals are vaccinated.
Complaints from members mainly centre on lack of communication, having trouble getting refunds or being charged fees without their agreement.
One former member of F45 Training Yio Chu Kang told TODAY that she continued to be charged for two months after she thought her membership had been terminated. Another member claimed that her membership had been renewed for four months without her agreement.
The woman who set up the Instagram account, who wanted to be known only as Jin and is a former member of the Yio Chu Kang studio, said that she did so to shed light on the issue she was facing because she felt “helpless”.
“So many people were affected for so long and he really ignored all of us until we got together on this account, making it clear we were impatient and were putting pressure on him,” the 27-year-old administrative assistant said.
She added that most of the more than 40 people who had reported negative experiences across both studios have been refunded in recent days.
“Maybe about eight of them from Geylang Bahru are still waiting for refunds, but the management reached out to them this afternoon promising to refund them by today (Wednesday). I think about three or four from Yio Chu Kang have yet to be refunded.”
Jin, who had been a member of the studio since late last year, had paid a total of S$828 (RM2,551) for 12 weeks of classes and managed to attend classes for four weeks before the Phase Two (heightened alert) measures came into effect.
She said that she had some difficulties suspending her membership, an option offered by the gym.
After sending numerous emails and text messages, and creating the Instagram account, Jin finally received a refund on August 18 and her membership was cancelled.
“A gym is a place to get healthy, but when the management doesn’t care about your health concerns and ignores your questions and valid, reasonable requests especially during times like these, it ruins the whole purpose of going to one,” she said.
“We do understand that gyms have been affected due to the heightened alert measures, but we would really appreciate having some assurance from the owners during these stressful periods when everyone is stuck in limbo.”
Sumi Neo, 39, another former member of the Yio Chu Kang studio, filed a complaint with Case and sought help from her bank, which advised her to cancel her credit card linked to her membership after she continued to be charged two months’ worth of fees (a total of S$512) despite asking for the termination of her membership.
The bank, DBS, also helped her raise a dispute over the matter.
Neo, who works in the aviation industry, said: “I asked for my termination so shouldn’t there be a reply on the status of my termination? I even completed the notice period required before I could stop going there.
“When the gym deducted the first amount, it insisted that it was a system glitch but when it happened again, I knew it couldn’t be anymore. So I asked the company what was going on but I was left in the dark.”
On Tuesday, Neo said that DBS managed to receive one month’s worth of fees from the studio.
“And today, the bank decided to fully just credit back the amount after hearing everything that had happened over this time. It said (it did so) out of good will,” she said.
Human resource executive Sylvia Chee, 29, has not been as fortunate.
Chee thought she had signed up for a “one-off” four-month membership that lasted from January to the start of May after she was given one complimentary week.
“I needed to move out from that area so I told the people in charge that I would like to continue on but only for two months. But before we could have a proper discussion, I was charged for another four months again,” she said, noting that the gym charged her S$1,076.
Her requests for help have fallen on deaf ears, she added.
“I feel really frustrated as he promised to do something but he has dragged it on for months and eventually totally ghosted me.
“Also I feel really stressed now as I know that he has many refunds to make and I’m scared that I may not get back my money.”
Case president Melvin Yong told TODAY that eight of the complaints it received were against the Yio Chu Kang outlet and one against the outlet at Geylang Bahru.
“In general, consumers complained that they were charged membership fees despite them having terminated or suspended their memberships. Consumers also complained about the auto-renewal of their fixed-term memberships,” said Yong.
Payments to personal account
At F45 Geylang Bahru, members face a different problem.
They have paid up to three months of membership fees to use a fitness studio that has yet to open, despite being told that it would be up and running by the end of March this year.
Cheryl Loon, 33, co-founder of a music school, signed up for the new branch in February this year and made an upfront payment of S$468 for three months.
She paid the amount directly to the studio’s former manager’s bank account because he had claimed that the “system was not set up yet”.
After that, the gym operator became difficult to contact about the opening plans, she said.
Loon received her refund last night.
Another customer who declined to be named signed up in January and paid S$540 for three months. He received a refund immediately after requesting one in August.
He, too, noted that he made payment directly to the studio manager.
A spokesperson for F45 Training Studio Management said that it was aware of the issues members from both outlets were facing and that it was committed to finding a timely solution.
“We value our members’ feedback and have been in touch with the studio owner to better understand the situation and have processed refunds for those who have been wrongly charged.” ― TODAY