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Consumer advice in Bonn: Dispute over gym vouchers

Consumer advice in Bonn : Dispute over gym vouchers

Cancelled events and the refund of the ticket price were a frequent topic at the consumer advice Bonn in the Corona year 2020. Subscribers were particularly annoyed with fitness studio operators.

The Corona pandemic also turned the work of the Bonn advice center of the NRW consumer center upside down last year, as its director Susanne Bauer-Jautz put it on Tuesday. "From March 16, the door was closed," contrary to the custom of an open house that advice-seekers can otherwise visit in Thomas-Mann-Strasse during opening hours.

Despite another lockdown, which has now lasted since the fall, around 8700 consumers were able to receive advice last year, at a distance, whether by phone, e-mail or traditional mail. More than 3,000 legal consultations and representations were provided, 45 percent of them even free of charge, because the social clause applied due to low income.

Insolvency risk lies with the consumer

Cancelled events such as trips, concerts and closed leisure facilities were a frequent topic in the consultations, Bauer-Jautz reported. While tour operators would have to pay back the money in the event of cancellation as a result of the pandemic, the federal government opted for voucher redemption in other cases in May 2020, she said. This means that organizers would not have to pay back the money for the ticket price until after Dec. 31, 2021, if the postponed event could not take place by then. The ruling would apply to all events booked by March 8, 2020, for the past year. "We criticize the fact that this puts the insolvency risk entirely on the consumer, because if the organizer goes bankrupt in the meantime, he can't pay anything back."

A perennial issue is also how gyms handle subscription contracts. In the first lockdown, many consumers were still willing to pay their dues despite the club's closure, he said. In this case, the voucher solution also applies, he said. "Legally, the situation is clear: If no service is provided, the consumer does not have to pay," Bauer-Jautz said. But it is now unclear what users can do with the vouchers, he said. "Some studios say they can be given to third parties, others only want to redeem them for drinks or clothing in their own store." That has led to confusion on all sides, he said.

Gyms extend contract terms on their own authority

Problems also arise when subscribers would have cancelled their contract. These had to experience that studio operators extended the running time of the contracts by the duration of the closing forced by Corona. According to Bauer-Jautz, district courts have ruled differently on this in litigation. "We will have to wait and see whether there are still rulings from higher regional courts or the Federal Supreme Court. In any case, we recommend consumers not to agree to a contract extension." But those who want to and can afford the subscription financially despite the closure should do so: "We're not interested in the market going bust." Besides many studio operators themselves would have thought up some sort of replacement like for instance virtual course offers.

On the occasion of the world consumer day in March the consumer center had warned of completely overpriced key emergency services. Because it could happen to anyone that they lock themselves out, it was felt that, they should address the issue. If the key is already in the lock, it is too late: "There you have no chance to escape the rip-off." The consumer center has seen bills for the use of an emergency key service of up to 1300 euros, which should cost a few hundred euros at most. In some areas of NRW, mafia-like structures would have developed; anyone looking for offers on the Internet would always come across the same service providers.

Companies work without tax number

"We are also in contact with the prosecution authorities there", Bauer-Jautz reported. Some dubious companies even work without a tax number: "They even do it on the black." In case of an emergency, it is best to get in touch with a metal technician in the neighborhood via the craftsmen's guild; the telephone number can be stuck on the inside cover of the mailbox. "It's better to spend the night in a hotel than to get caught by a rip-off artist at night," advised the consumer protector.

(Original text: Ulla Thiede, Translation: Mareike Graepel)