“Ignored, patronised, and accused” – students’ fury at York Sport “scam”


Students who have ended their contracts with the York Sport campus gyms should check their bank statements to ensure money isn’t being nicked.

The warning comes as it can be revealed one student, Sarah, had more than £130 taken from her bank account over two months after telling York Sport Village she wanted to cancel her contract.

She told York Vision it then took another two months for her to get the money refunded, “and this only happened once I threatened to contact the financial services, having previously been ignored, patronised, and accused of being mistaken.”

While anyone can sign up for a York Sport membership online within minutes, it can only be cancelled by contacting “collection service” Harlands Group.

The company continued taking money from her account even after phone calls with Harlands and York Sport during which they both confirmed the membership had been cancelled.

She was forced to contact her bank to stop the Direct Debit to prevent Harlands taking any more money.

Then when Sarah – who was a York Sport member for just one day – contacted Harlands demanding the £132 back, her emails went ignored for as long as two weeks.

Sarah at one point sent over a bank statement to prove she was owed a refund, but Harlands said: “we are unable to open the attachment” – a PDF file.

Sarah says she was “disappointed” and saw the debacle as “a serious stain on the reputation” of Harlands and York Sport.

Any student who cancelled their membership would not even know they were still being charged without looking at their bank statement.

Sarah said: “If I hadn’t known my legal rights, they would have kept £130 of my money which I didn’t owe them.

“I think this may be happening to other students.”

Some gym users are now furious at York Sport for continuing to use Harlands Group, which was featured on the BBC’s consumer affairs program Watchdog over a year ago.

In that programme, multiple Harlands customers complained about how difficult it was to cancel their memberships at different gyms.

The scandal also raises questions about why it is easy to join the campus gyms – it takes less than ten minutes online – but so difficult to leave.

Jon Greenwood, the director of commercial services at York, said he would investigate the incident if he could have details about Sarah’s case.

He said “like any other direct debit” cancelling it would be “between you and your bank, or Harlands in this case,” rather than York Sport.

YUSU President Millie Beach said: “We’re sorry to hear about the case of this student. We work closely with York Sport Village and are proud of the facilities available for students at York.

“It’s important however that our students are treated fairly when they become a customer of any on campus facility. We will absolutely raise this issue with York Sport Village and look for a student friendly solution going forward.”

Harlands Services did not respond to a request for comment by the time of going to print.

Sarah said: “It was frustrating and time-consuming, and upsetting to be treated like I had done something wrong.

“I’m just glad that I knew my legal rights, because if I hadn’t then I think they would have scared me into letting them get away with it.”

Sarah is a pseudonym.

Update: York Sport have responded to our request for comment. 

Business manager Richard Orr said: "A new member is able to sign up for our leisure facilities with a simple online process, something we feel is beneficial to the customer where all our prices and costs for use are clearly displayed.  For cancelling memberships there needs to be dialogue between the customer and collection agency to confirm the details for cancellation, and ensure all parties are happy with what is agreed.  We are open and transparent with the our prices and policies.

"We are obviously disappointed to hear the student hasn't had a positive experience on this occasion.  However without details of the member we cannot comment any further on what happened in that instance. 

"We are aware of the documentary that was on BBC Watchdog, however we are unable to comment on the programme due to the content relating to a different leisure provider with different terms and conditions."