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, which they insist they never joined.

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

However, its managing director, Gert Visser, says it is acting within the law and that 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. Two years ago, they were each jailed 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.”

This is despite the fact that I had never signed up with the gym.

On the online customer service site, scores of other people also complained of receiving similar SMSes even though some had never joined the gym and others said they had paid up years ago.

l A Ms M van Tonder wrote on the site: “I DO NOT, and NEVER had an account with Health & Racquet. I will not waste my time speaking to your incompetent staff, SORT THIS OUT.”

l Another person said: “Firstly, I have never, in my entire life, had any form of gym membership. It is not something I have ever had any interest in and never will… I have tried three times to contact you on the number provided, every time to only be put in a queue and the line being dropped after five minutes”.

l A third person said they were told they needed to prove they had paid their account.

“I don’t have any proof of payment as it has been ages since this happened. Further to this, they claim to have spoken to my dad in 2001, who told them I was not in the country. I have never left South Africa. They say they have trying to get hold of me since then.

“My cell number is the same for the last 13 years,” the person wrote.

On Tuesday, Jaco Fourie, a senior legal official in the Law Society of the Northern Provinces’ disciplinary department, confirmed it had received complaints about JM Attorneys, but did want to go into detail as it was confidential information.

He said that if an attorney persisted in sending numerous demanding SMSes or letters to a debtor, while the debtor said they had a legal dispute about the alleged claim, it 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.” He said the firm “most certainly collected from people who had an actual debt”.