Row over legal firm’s pressure on ‘debtors’

301226 Ex-QDMS Health & Racquet club

Caryn Dolley

THE Health & Racquet gym and fitness club was liquidated nine years ago – but some people are still being billed for memberships with the gym they insist they never joined.

Scores of complaints have now been levelled against a Gauteng law firm, JM Attorneys, which has been demanding the payments.

However, its managing director, Gert Visser, says it is acting within the law and the complaints may be based on “factual issues”.

He would not say if the law firm was acting on behalf of a client.

LeisureNet, which owned the Health & Racquet gym franchise, was liquidated about nine years ago.

The gyms were taken over by the Virgin Group.

In 2007 the former chief executives of Leisurenet, Peter Gardener and Rod Mitchell, were found guilty of fraud involving R12 million and two years ago they were each sent to jail for seven years.

Last week, a consumer lawyer, who declined to be named, said JM Attorneys had bought Health & Racquet’s debt book and for years had been “bullying” people to collect money owed by them.

A week ago I received an SMS stating: “A TRACE ALERT WILL BE PLACED ON YOU AT THE CREDIT BUREAU. JM Attorneys iro Health & Racquet acc... R1 791.49 due by 25Jan13.”

I had not signed up with the gym.

On the online customer service site hellopeter.com, scores of people have complained of receiving similar SMSes, although some of them had not joined the gym and others had paid up their fees years ago.

On Tuesday, Jaco Fourie, a senior legal official in the Law Society of Northern Province’s disciplinary department, confirmed complaints had been received about JM Attorneys, but did not want to go into detail as this was confidential information.

He said if an attorney persisted in sending numerous demanding SMSes or letters to a debtor, while the debtor said that they had a legal dispute about the alleged claim, this would amount to harassment of the debtor.

In an e-mail response to the Cape Times, Visser said: “As debt collection lawyers acting on behalf of various companies, our role is to advise on the legal position and to collect as much of the debt as possible within the framework of the law.”

Visser said the firm “most certainly collected from people who had an actual debt”.

He was aware of the comments on the Hellopeter website.

“That there may be complaints on Hellopeter does not necessarily mean that there are instances of non-existent accounts, only that there are service or factual issues that may require action or clarification,” Visser said.

He denied JM Attorneys was harassing people.

“We vigorously refute the suggestion that any of our collection actions amount to harassment and suggest that people rather contact us to resolve their arrear debt,” Visser said.

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