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Case studies - Leisure club membership refund

Which? Legal members Janice and Frank Turner bought a joint annual membership to the De Vere Wotton House Hotel’s leisure club in April 2016 for £1,350 for 12 months. In July, as per the club policy, they froze their membership for a month when they weren’t using it, thereby extending it by one month at no extra cost.

The club’s pool was adult-only, except for very limited hours when children could use it  this was clearly stated in writing. But over Christmas, children were also allowed to use the pool during the adults-only hours. This made it hard for Janice to swim, as she's disabled. The Turners complained, but the management only reinstated two child-free hours per day. It did apologise, though, and said that in future any changes to adult-only hours would be made clear on the club noticeboard, and that staff would be reminded to enforce the policy. Then in January, a child was again swimming outside the set hours.

When Janice raised the issue, the child's mother verbally abused her about her disability. Hotel management appeared to take no action, so the Turners resigned their membership and asked for a refund for the remaining four-and-a-half months. The hotel said they could only have a three-month refund (£337.50), as one had been free and there was no pro-rata refund for the rest of January.

Our advice

We advised that the Turners should be refunded on the cost of each day lost (£3.42 a day, so £448.02 over 131 days). We suggested they post a letter by recorded delivery to The Principal Hotel Company (which owns De Vere Hotels), giving a five-working-day deadline to get the remaining refund and threatening small claims court action. The balance was subsequently paid.

The law

The hotel is bound by its terms and conditions. The Turners relied on these conditions, one of which was breached (children using the pool). As they had received some benefit from the contract, they were entitled to a pro-rata refund. The fact that one month of the contract was ‘free’ is irrelevant, as their loss must be calculated by the number of days of unused membership – in this case, 131.