Portsmouth University

Carl Athersuch, Sports Facilities & Operations Officer at Portsmouth University tells us about working with DFC, how it benefited them as a business and challenges they faced. Why did University of Portsmouth choose to implement the services offered by DFC?

Due to the ever evolving health and fitness market and increased pressure from low cost budget gyms the feedback from our customers and students was that our offer was not flexible enough for many. Previously we had only offered members the option to purchase before 1st January, a full years membership paid in full up front. Although this £120 fee is very cheap it just could not compete with other providers offering £15.99 a month, no fee, no cancellation charge and the option to freeze.

We had to become more flexible and in turn competitive. Using direct debit is something we have wanted to explore for a while and working with Gladstone and DFC we put forward a business case to our University finance team for agreement. Our University had been hesitant of using direct debit due to the previous need for a lot of administration.

On meeting DFC our finance team were able to ask many questions and ensure that DFC would be fully compliant in terms of securely managing student data, meeting financial regulations and not unfairly impact on students for missed payments. Our finance team were very happy with DFC’s business model and approved the use of direct debit – on one condition – students could not be charged any non payment fee’s. DFC were extremely flexible in allowing us to manage non payments of students internally. Our University will only allow us to charge for unpaid membership fee’s, not any fines associated with missed payments. They agreed that any student who has outstanding debts at graduation will not be allowed to graduate until they are paid.

The set up of direct debits, integration to web pages and use of our branding has all been excellent. We have an ongoing positive relationship with DFC and plan to continue direct debits through DFC.

One area worth considering is the recent FSA ruling that students cannot be stopped from graduating due to unpaid debts. This ruling has much bigger ramification’s at other levels within Universities but for us it is effectively taking the risk that students could use our services, not pay and there is nothing we can do to stop them. We have put in a place a rule that after 1 non payment, they are stopped from using our services. ”

David Mellor, Head of Business Development – Leisure at DFC said, “The University of Portsmouth took the fully managed route with their external customers. Due to understandable internal pressures, with regard to their ‘student’ customers they chose to operate ‘collection only’ – which naturally brought with it extra administration duties. This is perhaps the best way in which to show the difference between the 2 options.” – C Athersuch