Every year, some time between the fourth helping of left over Christmas food and the first serving of New Years Eve bubbly, millions of people in the UK look down at their post Christmas belly which is now sitting rather snugly against their waste band, and think “Hmm… best lose a few pound in the new year”.
This year, I was no different. The aftermath of pregnancy and Christmas had left me several dress sizes larger than I was happy with, so I decided that with the help of Slimming World online, I would start my 52lb in 52 weeks challenge.
I had successfully used Weight Watchers online to lose weight previously and loved the flexibility and support it gave me but I was lured over to Slimming World by the promise that I wouldn’t have to weigh my food. This was a major bonus for me as Grumpy Dad is the cook in our house and regularly throws me out of the kitchen for doing unreasonable things such as looking at the dinner.
Because my previous experience of an online slimming club membership had been so positive, I was excited to sign up and log in to Slimming World for the first time and didn’t even flinch at the need to sign up for 3 months up front. Unfortunately I was immediately disappointed. The Slimming World online membership was not what I had expected. I quickly discovered that the diet plan isn’t tailored to individuals so in theory a 5ft 9st woman could eat the same as a 7ft 20st man, which didn’t sound healthy to me. I was also unimpressed with the website itself. The food logging app was very poor, which may explain why you are advised to use a printed logging sheet when you sign up. I also found the food search app to be quite difficult to use as there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the search results it provided, in the end I decided that I would have to purchase a book containing common foods in order to save my sanity.
After three days of playing with the website I came to the conclusion in my opinion the membership was no more than a subscription to an online magazine containing information that I could have obtained by buying a £10 book instead of a £20 per month subscription. This was not what I had expected or wanted so I decided to take advantage of my rights in accordance with Consumer Contracts Regulations and request a refund within the 14 day cooling off period.
You would thing that this would be an easy matter to resolve as Consumer Contracts Regulations are fairly clear as to your rights, however before cancelling I too a look at the Slimming World terms and conditions to see what the cancellation process was and was shocked to see the following.
“If you become a member of Slimming World Online via this website you have a short “cooling off period” when you have the right to cancel your membership. The right finishes 7 days after enrolling (having not entered the members’ area) or after building your profile, setting your personal weight loss target and entering the members’ homepage – whichever occurs soonest.
The right to cancel your membership ends once you have begun to use the Slimming World Online service. Information that follows our profile building and target setting process constitutes part of our services to our members. Because our service starts immediately on entering the members’ homepage, by accessing this information you will have utilised our services and your right to cancel your new membership will have ended.”
This was a complete shock as it directly contradicts the Consumer Contracts Regulations which state that you have the right to cancel any contract you enter within 14 days minimum unless you have received a) agreed for a contract to start immediately, and b) receive 100% of the service you have purchased. So for example, You can cancel a 1 month gym membership within 14 days because you haven’t received the full month of use, but you cannot cancel a plumber after he has fixed your sink because you have received the full service you paid for.
I was now feeling extremely wary as it would appear that Slimming World were requiring their customers to pay 3 months up front and then trying to convince them that they have no consumer rights. In my opinion this was not only dishonest but purposefully so, particularly as their 7 day cooling off period, which is too short to begin with, is null and void if you sign into your account after paying for it. Something that most customers would do automatically as part of the process of signing up. I would assume that the reason for all this is that Slimming World are aware that their online offering is wholly underwhelming and have had a lot of cancellation requests as a result.
I have to say that I was not looking forward to this battle but I pulled on my Grumpy Mum hat and wrote an email to Slimming world explaining that I wished to cancel within 14 days as per my consumer rights. I wasn’t at all surprised to receive their response a day later informing me that their terms and conditions state that as I’ve entered the member area I cannot cancel.
With a heavy sigh I replied that there service wasn’t what I had expected and that regardless their terms and conditions, my consumer rights still existed and were quite clearly state:
Your right to cancel a service made at a distance starts the moment you enter into the contract and lasts 14 days
I made it clear that I would not be going away quietly and again requested that they cancel my membership and provide me with a full refund.
Somehow I just knew that I would now have a fight on my hands and I was right. Slimming World replied with the following quote and informing me again that as soon as I signed in I was no longer eligible to cancel.
If the service is provided in full within 14 days The right to cancel can be lost during the cancellation period if the service is provided in full before the 14 days elapses.
Their opinion was that by signing in I had received the service in full despite the fact that I had purchased a 3 month membership. They also sent me a handy picture of a sign in page warning me that I couldn’t cancel after signing in, but offered to transfer my membership to a physical meeting.
Unsurprisingly I was not interested in their offer of changing me to a meeting membership. I had specifically ordered an online membership to avoid this and had no desire to go traipsing to a weigh in with a tiny baby in tow.
However, this quote did have me slightly worried for a moment, what if I was wrong? After reading and re-reading the Consumer Contract Regulations, I realised that they had cherry picked this paragraph to use out of context. You see it’s true that if you buy a service which is provided in full within 14 days, you can no longer cancel. But this was different, the service I had purchased was a 3 month subscription and I had used 3 days… That hardly sounds like provision in full to me.
I replied once again, thanking them for their offer but insisting on a refund. I provided them with the quote below to give context to their earlier assurance that I could not cancel, however I did have to admit that I had been partially wrong. I was not eligible for a full refund. I was eligible for a refund minus the 3 days I had used. As I’m a reasonable sort I suggested that I would accept a refund of all but 1 week of my membership.
If you request a service starts straightaway In this instance you will still have the right to cancel, but you must pay for the value of the service that is provided up to the point you cancel.
For example, if you buy a service like gym membership and start using the gym and then change your mind within this 14 day time period, you will be refunded but could be charged for the amount of gym time you used.
I had an inkling that Slimming World would still argue my right to cancel so in the hope of adding a little weight to my request, I cheekily added my blog signature to the email. I hoped that this would make it clear to them that I was not a person to back down when I believe I am in the right. Within hours I received a response from a senior member of staff informing me that I was wrong, I did not have the right to cancel but as a courtesy she would give me a part refund of £55, which funnily enough works out to be the full refund minus 1 week, exactly what I should have been refunded in accordance with my consumer rights.
Although this story has a happy ending it does go to show that even large, reputable companies may try to gloss over your consumer rights. Had I not looked up the Consumer Contract Regulations, been able to quote them and continued to insist on a refund after they had informed me that I had no rights, the likely hood is that they would have taken my money and left me with a three month membership to a service which I was not happy with.
It would not surprise me one bit if refund requests are common in respect of the Slimming World Online membership and this is why they have gone to such lengths to convince customers that cancellation is not an option. Even though my request was successful they were careful to inform me that they were doing this as a kindness, not because they had to in order to be compliant. As a result I imagine any future unhappy customers will find themselves in a similar battle of will and may end up accepting that they cannot cancel a service which they are unhappy with.
If you would like to know more about your Consumer Contract rights you can visit the Which? website for an easy to understand breakdown.
Have you had a similar experience of a company refusing to give you a refund within 14 days?