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Legal challenge issued against ‘discriminatory’ charges at Hampstead ponds

A legal challenge has been issued against the City of London which claims that the new charging regime for Hampstead Ponds discriminates against disabled people.

Posted on 01 July 2021

The application for judicial review has been brought by Christina Efthimiou who is disabled and receives disability related benefits. She swims regularly at the ponds and has done for around four years.

Christina, aged 59, of Camden, is supported in her claim by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), of which she is a member.

Up until 2005 it was free of charge to swim in the ponds. The City of London, despite fierce opposition from the local community, implemented a charging regime from 1 June 2005. This was self-policed and so those who could not afford to pay could still access the ponds. On 7 January 2020, the City of London initiated a review of swimming on Hampstead Heath including introducing compulsory charges for access and use.

There was strong support by the swimming associations to adopt a charging regime where payment would not have been demanded to gain entry but those who could afford to pay would be strongly encouraged to do so. However, the City of London instead opted for significantly increased mandatory charges. This raise included a doubling of swimming charges for adults and increasing concessions charges by 140%. A further review took place in February 2021 and rates were increased further and disproportionately increased for those eligible for a concession, including disabled people on benefits.

In the legal case Ms Efthimiou argues that the new 2021 charging regime, which came into effect on 1 April 2021, disproportionality adversely affects people with disabilities. All non-concessionary rates were increased in line with inflation at 1.3%; however, the cost of a six month pass for those eligible for a concession was increased by 21.5% and a 12 month concession pass by 15.1%. Furthermore, the City of London has refused to allow people to spread the cost of a season ticket by paying monthly.

Ms Efthimiou argues that by adopting the new charging regime the City of London has breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments; has discriminated against her and other disabled people contrary to Section 19 of the Equality Act; and has breached its duties under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 8. Article 14 protects from discrimination and Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life.

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.

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.

A spokesperson for KLPA said:

“The KLPA and the other Heath swimmers’ associations have attempted to work constructively with the City since 2020 to increase income without excluding anyone unable to pay. The KLPA provided evidence to the City that the increased charges were having a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged swimmers and asked them to reconsider their charges for the 2021 season. However, this was disregarded, and the City has increasingly sought to increase charges to swim, despite the onset of a pandemic causing great financial and mental stress to the local community. Those charges have had a disproportionate impact on swimmers with disabilities; in particular, the increases to concessionary season tickets as well as the refusal to allow payment by instalment. We call on the City to work with the swimmers’ associations to find an equitable way out of this impasse so that we can restore relations between the City and Heath swimmers.”

Christina Efthimiou said:

“I have been swimming at the Ladies’ Pond for around four years. The benefits to me are immense and if I have to stop using the ponds for my regular exercise I don’t know what I will be able to do instead. I and many others will be priced out by the charges which will change the ponds to a privilege for the better off.”

Kate Egerton, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day, said:

“In our view, the City of London has failed to engage with the impact its charging regime is having on disabled swimmers and to comply with its equality duties to disabled swimmers who rely on the ponds to manage their health. The current charging regime demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the financial position of those who survive on benefits and the significant physical and psychological benefits to disabled people of swimming at the ponds.”

Kate Egerton
Discrimination Human rights

Kate Egerton

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

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