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Disabled swimmer wins permission for judicial review of ‘discriminatory’ charges at Hampstead ponds

A disabled swimmer has been granted permission for a judicial review of the new charging regime for Hampstead Ponds which she claims is discriminatory.

Posted on 10 August 2021

A High Court judge says Christina Efthimiou’s case against the City of London is arguable under the Equality Act 2010. Christina is arguing that the City of London has failed to make reasonable adjustments in its charging regime for swimming at the Ponds and that the charges indirectly discriminate against disabled people.

Christina, who is 59, lives in Camden and receives disability related benefits, swims regularly at the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond at the Hampstead ponds and has done for three to four years.
She is supported in her legal claim by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), of which she is a member.
Represented by law firm Leigh Day, Christina applied for permission for judicial review after the City of London earlier this year again sharply raised the charges for swimming at Hampstead ponds, with a disproportionate increase for concessions (for which disabled people on benefits are eligible). 
It now costs £75.97 for a 12-month concessionary season ticket, which Christina argues is simply not affordable for disabled people who rely on benefits to pay out in one go. She also argues that the single ticket prices are prohibitive to people on low income. 
Mandatory entry fees had been introduced in 2020, doubling the charges for adults and increasing concessions charges by 140 per cent.
Since 2005 the charging system had been self-policing which in reality meant that those on low income could still swim for free or at very low cost. Before 2005 swimming at the ponds was free for everyone.
Christina argues that the charging regime introduced on 1 April 2021, which increases the 2020 charges again, adversely affects people with disabilities disproportionately. 
All non-concessionary rates were increased in line with inflation at 1.3 per cent, but the cost of a six-month pass for those eligible for a concession was increased by 21.5 per cent and a 12-month concession pass by 15.1 per cent. The City of London has also refused to allow disabled people to spread the cost of a season ticket by paying monthly nor properly consider an affordable level of charges for disabled people on low income.  
Christina argues that by adopting the new charging regime the City of London has breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments and has discriminated against her and other disabled people contrary to Section 19 of the Equality Act. 
She is asking the court to quash the City of London’s decision to adopt the increased charges and declare that the new charging regime amounts to unlawful discrimination in respect of disabled people.
Christina’s case is likely to be heard at a one-day hearing before the end of the year.
The Kenwood Ladies’ Pond has been used by women for nearly a century and offers a single-sex space and place of sanctuary for women and girls, including those with physical and mental health disabilities, victims of violence and abuse and those from faith groups that demand modesty. 
Of the bathing ponds on the Heath, the Ladies’ Pond has historically had the greatest degree of accessibility for disabled swimmers, with level access, accessible toilet and shower, and a hoist in the pond. There has been an increased recognition in recent years of the value of cold-water swimming to enhance health and wellbeing, and particularly for those with physical and mental health disabilities. For many people, including Christina, access to the ponds is an essential part of managing their disability.
Christina Efthimiou said: 
“I used to be able to swim regularly at the ponds, at very little cost, or even for free. The introduction of charges has priced me out of an activity that was hugely beneficial to my physical and mental health. How can it be fair that use of the ponds has effectively become the preserve of the better off and able-bodied? I feel the charges have discriminated against me as a disabled person and I hope the Court will agree.”
Kate Egerton, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said: 
“The Court has agreed that the City of London’s charging regime for swimming at the Ponds needs to be examined to ensure that it does not unlawfully discriminate against disabled people. We have significant evidence, from both our client and other disabled swimmers, about the exclusionary nature of the charges, and consider that the City of London could devise a scheme that meets its equality obligations simply and at minimal cost. We are therefore feeling positive that the Court will find in Christina’s favour.” 
Mary Powell, of KLPA said:
“Receiving permission to proceed with this judicial review is very encouraging news; it shows that there is a case to argue.  Until now the City of London Corporation has been dismissive of the concerns we raised about exclusion from the bathing ponds, but we are still willing to work with the City to resolve this situation.  It is only in recent years that the ponds have been treated as a means to make money, having been free to access until 2005, and still easily accessible to people on low incomes until March 2020.  It is still possible to find a way to make the ponds accessible again and we urge the City to co-operate in this.”

Kate Egerton
Discrimination Human rights

Kate Egerton

Kate Egerton is a senior associate solicitor in the human rights department.

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