Since we decided to leave Esporta Brighton, we’ve had no end of threatening behaviour from the company and its debt collector ARC Europe. This isn’t anything unusual, they’ve done it to lots of people – just try a Google search.

Esporta’s membership contract says that they can terminate a membership with one month’s notice, but that a member cancelling their membership must give three months notice – paid, of course. So when someone like me wants to leave because the facilities are poorly maintained and the club just isn’t up to scratch, they try to enforce this contact term. However, there is a piece of legislation called the Unfair Contract Terms Act 1977 which companies like Esporta should be rather wary of when they ask their lawyers to draft their contacts. Used in conjunction with the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, one can essentially ask a court of law to review a contract term, and if found to be unfair, the entire clause is struck from the contract. With nothing to replace it, standard UK trading laws take over and there’s nothing the company can do; with no fair cancellation clause in place, they’re not entitled to a penny.

Esporta’s contact terms relating to notice periods have already been ruled unfair by the Office of Fair Trading (see, along with quite a lot besides. This ruling would be taken into account by the courts in any case involving Esporta’s membership contracts. This means that nobody should be paying Esporta three months’ fees upon notice of cancellation. Unfortunately a lot of people give way to bullying from the company and its debt collectors. Why is this allowed to happen? Unfortunately a contract is only of any use when tested in a court of law. Since most people shudder at the thought of being taken to court by a big powerful company, most people just give in and pay up. It’s important not to give in, and to fight your corner, because that’s the only way companies like Esporta will be stopped.

Unfortunately this wasn’t all in our case. ARC Europe obtained copies of the contracts my girlfriend and I allegedly signed, and sent them through to us by way of a “now get out of that one” threat. To be honest, I didn’t remember signing a contract, so I was surprised they had a signed one to send me. Upon examination however, it wasn’t my signature. My girlfriend had signed, but I hadn’t. In place of my signature was a very poor forgery in the same handwriting style as that of the Esporta employee who had signed on behalf of the company.

Just to be clear about this, forging a signature on a contract is criminal fraud under UK law. Are Esporta really that desperate? Apparently the answer is yes.

April 2010 Update: lots of letters & phone calls received from ARC Europe (culminating in a threat of solicitors & legal action) & subsequently ScotCall – threatening doorstep collections – and then numerous phone calls from a call centre asking for payment and offering substantial discounts if we give them a card payment over the phone… and all addressed to my partner, not me. This is no doubt because she’s female and relatively young, and therefore seen as the easy target by the bully boys. Indeed she may have got scared & paid up anyway if I hadn’t been around. Finally, a Final Demand letter from ScotCall – saying that the balance remains unpaid despite their correspondence and that they have no choice but to… return the case to Esporta with a recommendation that they take further action. I’ll keep you posted of any further developments. Let me know if you’re also being harassed for money by Esporta & its cronies on the basis of an unfair contract.