Looking to keep fit in Reading? Just don’t do with Leisure Connection!
I have just ended a very short swimming membership with Leisure Connection (more appropriately Leisure Corruption); the company that owns and operates three fitness facilities in the Reading area; Loddon Valley Leisure Centre in Lower Earley and St Crispin’s Leisure Centre and Carnival Pool Leisure, both in Wokingham. This was my second membership with the company and the experience was more disappointing second time around.
My first membership came to an end in 2008 after becoming more and more dissatisfied with the levels of cleanliness at Loddon Valley. Even paying only £18 a month for the use of the swimming pool, it offered disappointing value for money and the unbearable sewage-like stench soon became too much to bear on the poolside. It was time to call it a day.
Earlier this year, I had started to make occasional visits to Loddon Valley again. Standards had improved slightly and by swimming first thing in the morning, when the cleaners were working hard at keeping the centre in tip-top condition, it was the best time of day to be there. With these swims becoming more and more regular, becoming a member again seemed a sensible option.
On receiving a call one day from a member of staff at St Crispin’s (his call the result of me once expressing interest in a membership), he talked me through the options available. Choosing a membership with my local gym was more confusing than choosing a mobile phone contract, however! ‘Gym and swim’ combinations required members to commit to lengthy contracts or face paying ridiculous amounts on a monthly rolling contract – £42 being the price quoted to me initially, reduced to £37 after much hesitation. At the time, I did not know what the future of my job was. I was not convinced that my current employer could afford to keep me for very much longer, and, as was explained to the worker at St Crispin’s, I did not want to be paying for a gym membership if I were to lose my job.
After settling for the ‘pure water’ membership allowing use of the swimming pools only, I was assured that this was a good option given my circumstances. As a rolling contract, it was explained that if I found myself out of work, I could opt out at a moment’s notice. It seemed like decent deal and I decided to go ahead, eventually signing up in person at Carnival Pool later in the day. This time, I incurred a sign-up fee of around £14 and membership was priced at a far-from-competitive £24.95 a month – a huge hike on the prices of 2008!
Out of works just a few weeks later, it was a priority for me to cancel the Direct Debit and to make Leisure Connection aware of my circumstances and my intentions. Paying on the last working day of the month for the month ahead, I cancelled this payment with my bank on 30 April. The month of April had been paid for and I did not wish to use or pay for the month of May.
Loddon Valley staff were unsurprisingly useless at dealing with me. They could not find me on their system and insisted that I speak to the Carnival Pool, where I had signed up. They too had some difficulty in locating me and soon had to search by address – eventually realising that an error on their part had resulted in my name being incorrectly on the system as Michael Sylvester. The staff member that I spoke to quickly pointed out that I was expected to give 30 days of notice to terminate my membership – not what was explained previously!
The worker failed to understand my circumstances and dismissed my allegations of mis-selling, which was effectively how Leisure Connection signed me up – saying and doing whatever was necessary (including lying) to make me become a member. Despite making it especially clear about my work situation prior to signing up, the company felt it was acceptable to demand £24.95 from me when I was not in receipt of a salary payment that month. I was asked to send an email to Loddon Valley, which I did straight away. I raised concerns about mis-selling and the rushed enrolment process. Had the company have properly explained the terms and conditions of membership to me (and warned me of a 30-day termination policy, regardless of my circumstances), I would not have signed up. I was also not encouraged to read the terms and conditions and instead asked to sign.
11 days after sending that email and without any reply from somebody in authority at Carnival Pool, I received a text message from Leisure Connection. They asked me to call them because I was apparently in arrears, which I gladly did. Explaining my reasons for not making the payment, I was again ignored and told that because I had agreed to the terms and conditions, I was expected to pay for the month of May – a month during which I had not visited any Leisure Connection site.
Frankly, this is not a company worthy of anybody’s business. Mis-selling and dishonest staff, a sloppy standard of customer service and intimidating tactics to get customers to pay; bailiffs and threats of court. Given the choice of making payment or going to court, I will choose court. Failings on the company’s part to respond to my complaint might assure any judge that mistakes were also made during the sign-up process.
I would urge anybody considering a keep-fit membership to steer clear of Leisure Connection altogether.
Update – 7 June 2012
After receiving the first text message from Leisure Connection and making contact with the company’s head office, I was told that a message would be sent to Carnival Pool in Wokingham, asking them to respond to my complaint. Rather unsurprisingly, no response ever was received. I decided not to waste any more of my time dealing with the company.
A further text message and two letters were received. The text message reminded me that my account was in arrears and that my membership had been suspended (oh no!) and the two letters told me I owed £24.99. The last letter received was a ‘final reminder’ and it was written in big red letters across the page. I wasn’t bothered by the contents of text messages and letters but it was of concern to me that Leisure Connection continued to harass me knowing that I had made a complaint – a complaint that they could not be bothered to deal with!
Back on the phone again, I found myself speaking to the same lady as last time around and explained that I was still being bothered with text messages and letters, and, out of principle, I would not be making any payment at all. I wanted my complaint to be acknowledged and looked into. Agreeing that Carnival Pool management were quite frankly useless, she asked that my complaint be sent directly to head office. I sent the email on 23 May, and, surprise surprise, I am still without a reply!
“Delivering Excellence in Sports, Leisure, Health and Well Being” is Leisure Connection’s bold statement. The service delivered to me so far has been anything but excellent. In order to ensure that targets are met, staff happily miss-sell membership packages to the public, facilities are of a mediocre standard and not always in full working order (for example, showers), cleanliness at Loddon Valley and Carnival Pool continues to be an issue and customer complaints are ignored. 40 days have passed since complaining to Carnival Pool and 15 days since complaining to head office.
Update – 28 June 2012
Hmm.. I have a feeling that Leisure Connection are trying their hardest to ignore me. It’s been 61 days since writing my first complaint and 21 days since re-sending it to the company’s head office, as was recommended by one of their call centre staff.
Out of principle, I am going to continue pestering the company until they have the decency to acknowledge my complaint and to answer the many questions put to them. This company is making itself look more and more ridiculous by the day.
Update – 29 June 2012
62 days later and I at last receive a response from the Business Manager of the Carnival Pool. I suspect that the response came after yesterday’s email to Leisure Connection asking ‘why are you ignoring me?’
It was the response that I expected. I should have read the terms and conditions (with no acknowledgement of my complaint about the rushed sign-up process, not allowing sufficient time to read them) and the level of service is apparently good enough. Fortunately though, this chap was in agreement with my comments about the substandard condition of some Leisure Connection facilities, specifically cleanliness and areas in need of modernisation.
The £24.95 debt was written off – not that I ever was going to pay it – and I was encouraged to go back to Leisure Connection if I had any more concerns. But if it means waiting 62 days for a reply, I probably won’t waste my time.
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