The MoneySavingIdiot did an accidental direct debit audit – and got £300 back from his gym
Working at MoneySavingExpert.com, obviously the purpose of my job is to help people save money. Unfortunately, I've always been bobbins at saving money for myself. But in an effort to change that, I've been trying out some of MSE's tips and tricks. Previously, I've covered the likes of train delays, overseas travel, credit scores, finding lost cash and depositing coins. Today: doing a direct debit audit (sort of).
As you'll no doubt recall from my blog on switching bank back in September, I switched bank back in September. During the process, my old bank posted me a list of the direct debits it had transferred to my new bank. Fortunately, this was one of the rare occasions I opened a letter from the bank in the same calendar year I received it. I perused the list and all seemed to be in order – until I saw a direct debit for the gym in Norfolk I was a member of until I moved back to London to start at MSE... in August 2017.
I was convinced I'd cancelled my membership in January 2018, but a frenzied check of bank statements from the last two years proved it was very much still active.
So active, in fact, that I worked out I'd paid just under £435 for a gym I hadn't used since the bong-suppressing renovation of Big Ben began.
I guess this is probably why MSE has a guide on how to do a direct debit audit and ensure you're not wasting £1,000s paying for products and services you don't need or never use. And why it's probably a good idea to look at your bank statements now and again.
What I did next
After feeling like a right dingus, I delved into my inbox in a bid to ascertain where I'd gone wrong.
It became evident that a new company had taken over management of the gym six months previously. So as a first step, I contacted it and asked it to ensure my membership was cancelled with immediate effect. I got an email a day later saying this had been done, which meant at the very least I'd stopped my bank account from leaking £23 a month – or £276/year. (That officially makes me a Cancellation Hero. Go me!)
I also asked the company to refund the payments that had been taken since I'd cancelled my gym membership.
This I asked more in hope than expectation, because to be honest I was struggling to find indisputable proof that I'd cancelled in January 2018. (My big hope was that because you had to swipe your membership card to access the gym, the company's records would show I hadn't used it since 2017.)
Surprisingly, it agreed to refund me up to March 2019, when it took over running the gym, meaning I was able to at least lessen the dent to my finances by £138.
What I did after that
Feeling I had got lucky, I considered stopping there, take the remaining £297 hit and try to learn my lesson. But then I remembered I had this blog to write and didn't want to sound lazy, so I pushed on.
Rather sheepishly, I approached the company that had previously managed the gym, explained the situation and again requested a refund for payments taken between the last time I'd used the gym and when the new company took over.
Entirely reasonably, a customer service person replied asking for a copy of my written cancellation request. But despite wading deep into the swamp that constitutes my digital life, I was unable to find it – even though I distinctly recalled contacting a woman at the gym to find out how to go about it. This is where too many late nights get you, kids – possibly imaginary gym membership cancellations.
But despite my inability to provide solid (or even flimsy) evidence, the customer service person offered me £160 as a gesture of goodwill – a gesture I was in no position to turn down. That increased the total amount I reclaimed to £298, and reduced the deficit caused by my direct debit blundering to £137. Success! (Sort of.)
What I learned
This ain't exactly rocket surgery, but here, for any other learner MoneySavers out there, are my personal take-home points from this tale of financial fecklessness and administrative anarchy:
- Do a direct debit audit. Obviously. It's easy to do and if you do it regularly-ish not only will you save yourself money, you'll also save yourself a lot of personal admin chasing money that's already been taken.
- Don't keep paying for things you 'might' use. Looking through regular payments while writing this, I've seen a couple of subscriptions I've been thinking about cancelling but haven't, because I keep telling myself I might need them. In the meantime, I've probably paid out £30-£40 for nought. As Martin says: "Ask yourself if you actually use what you're paying for. Be ruthless."
- If you've paid for something you didn't use, ask for a refund – and don't be afraid to push your luck. Minimal MoneySavingExpertise required – all I did was send a couple of polite emails. But the important bit is that it's worth asking even if you don't have a copper-bottomed claim. I got a £160 refund from the firm which previously owned the gym, even though I couldn't provide any evidence of trying to cancel. So it's worth a shot even if you think there's zero chance you'll get money back.
For full help, see Do a direct debit audit and Your gym cancellation rights, and for more inspiration, see the 'I got £1,120 back after finding a forgotten direct debit I'd been paying for FIVE years' MSE News story.