Meet Alice. She joined a gym on a 12 month contract. She moves out of the area or country and while requiring evidence of a permanent move such as a lease agreement in the new locale or employment contract, they allow her to be released from the liability and cancel the contract. Presumably not out of the goodness of their hearts but because their legal department advised them that they have to. Is that a sensible presumption? And if so, what would be the legal basis for this advice? Would it be deemed an unfair/unenforceable contract term?

Meet Bob. Bob entered a 12 month mobile phone service sum only contract binding him for 12 months. He moves out of the country making the service no longer relevant or useful to him, but the service provider does not hear any of it and insist on holding him to the contract. Is their position enforceable?

  • While I doubt that the lawyer did advise the gym to release the user (and instead point to the PR department), the phone service actually is useable globally... but rather expensive due to roaming outside of the own Region (e.g. the EU has a ban on roaming for any EU user)
    – Trish
    Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 17:33
  • The suggestion of PR department is sensible, however it should be clarified that the original idea was not that they consulted a lawyer about Bob's contract and relocation per see but rather that lawyers were involved in formulating the standard policy of the company. That being said the more I reconsider the less plausible the PR department theory seems. Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 19:07
  • In any event what if Alice is relocating outside the EU? Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 19:07
  • Realistically speaking it becomes useless due to roaming charges that are impractically and prohibitively expensive. Commented Sep 29, 2022 at 19:08
  • 3
    In relation to gym contracts, the Competition and Markets Authority investigated them and found "unfair" cancellation terms. The CMA said gym contracts should be cancellable in changes of circumstances such as serious injury or illness, job loss or moving away from the area. I'm not aware of a similar finding in relation to mobile phone contracts. gov.uk/government/news/…. If you think a mobile phone contract term is "unfair" you can contact your local Trading Standards Office, CMA and/or perhaps Ofcom.
    – Lag
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 10:14

1 Answer 1


The general rule is that the contract is king. It is assumed that the parties knew what they were doing when they negotiated the terms and therefore they should be binding.

In order to depart from the general rule you need to find a rule of law which allows you to do so. The applicable rule here is found at Section 62 of the Consumer Rights Act 2015:

(1) An unfair term of a consumer contract is not binding on the consumer.

(4) A term is unfair if, contrary to the requirement of good faith, it causes a significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations under the contract to the detriment of the consumer.

(5) Whether a term is fair is to be determined —

(a) taking into account the nature of the subject matter of the contract, and

(b) by reference to all the circumstances existing when the term was agreed and to all of the other terms of the contract or of any other contract on which it depends.

Section 63(1) provides:

Part 1 of Schedule 2 contains an indicative and non-exhaustive list of terms of consumer contracts that may be regarded as unfair for the purposes of this Part.

You can see the list in Part 1 of Schedule 2 here. As noted above, this list is non-exhaustive and non-binding so both of the following are possible:

  1. A term may be unfair despite not falling within any of the categories in the list.

  2. A term may be fair despite falling within one of the categories albeit the fact that it is in the list is likely to be persuasive.

Turning to the examples in the question, both Alice and Bob entered into 12 month contracts which (presumably) did not have a without-cause termination clause for either party (i.e. in the absence of some trigger such as a breach of contract, neither party can terminate within the first 12 months). In this sense, there is no "significant imbalance in the parties' rights and obligations". Bob cannot terminate if he decides he doesn't want the contract anymore, but neither can the phone provider.

Of the Schedule 2 items, the only one which seems relevant to me is this:

  1. A term which has the object or effect of requiring that, where the consumer decides not to conclude or perform the contract, the consumer must pay the trader a disproportionately high sum in compensation or for services which have not been supplied.

Perhaps Bob can argue that being made to pay the remaining monthly subscription fees is a "disproportionately high sum". Then again, considering these fees tend to be fairly low, a 12 month contract is very common across multiple different sectors and is not a very long period, and he still has the use of the phone, the term may be deemed fair.

EDIT: given Lag's link posted in the comments, it may well be possible to argue that the following may be unfair:

  1. A contract longer than 12 months which cannot be terminated.

  2. A contract shorter than 12 months which cannot be terminated if you can no longer use the service e.g. by moving out of the area.

Again, this would have to be viewed in light of Section 62 which requires an analysis of the nature of the contract subject matter, and all the surrounding circumstances. It may not necessarily follow that a decision affecting gym memberships (which are useless if you move away) would be applicable to mobile phone contracts (which are useable, at least in some sense, if you move away).

  • What does it mean in part 1 sch. 2 where the phrase "conclude or perform" the contract is used several times? Specifically what is meant by "conclude"? Does it mean the same as "complete"? If you used and paid for mobile service for 8 months and then breached, would keeping the contract for the next 4 be what is meant by concluding the contract? Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 13:36
  • Also as noted in my comment above on the question itself, roaming provisions are not intended to be used for permanent or long term relocation but relatively short trips. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 13:47
  • Plus if one moved to Zimbabwe for example one's phone number would still be British. Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 13:48
  • @JosephP. 1. Concluding a contract means agreeing or entering into it, e.g. after some period of negotiation. You can see a clue for this meaning in item 15 in that schedule: "[...] price is too high in relation to the price agreed when the contract was concluded." 2. Agreed that your phone may be less convenient or more expensive to use after you go abroad, but you still have the use of it. You can still receive SMS and see when someone has tried to call you. In that sense it isn't quite the same as a gym membership where you can't use it at all.
    – JBentley
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 17:36
  • @JosephP. So for example, the 2nd limb of item 5 in the schedule ("[...] or for services which have not been supplied") would apply to the gym membership but not the phone contract. For the 1st limb, paying for a gym membership you cannot use at all is more likely to be a "disproportionately high sum" than paying for a phone which you can use, albeit in a more limited way.
    – JBentley
    Commented Sep 30, 2022 at 17:39

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .