Disabled Hampstead swimmer's 'disappointment' at court ruling

Christina Efthimiou (left) has launched a legal challenge over swimming charges at Hampstead Heath

Christina Efthimiou (left) has launched a legal challenge over swimming charges at Hampstead Heath - Credit: Christina Efthimiou/Polly Hancock

"Disappointing" was the cry of a disabled swimmer and her supporters after losing a High Court battle over pond charges.

Christina Efthimiou took the City of London Corporation to court claiming that prices at Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond on Hampstead Heath “give rise to unlawful disability discrimination”.

A judge dismissed the claim on Thursday.

Mr Justice Cotter concluded that the charging structure did not “place a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with persons who are not disabled”.

He added that he was "satisfied that the charging policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.

Christina is 60 and suffers from  rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression.

She said regular access to the ponds has become an essential part of managing her disability and the ponds have become something she relies on mentally, emotionally and physically.

She added: "I'm disappointed by I'm not going to allow it to put me off. I'll get there somehow. It's still a place of sanctuary and always will be.

Kenwood Ladies' Pond swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice as they battle against the charging structure

Kenwood Ladies' Pond swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice as they battle against the charging structure - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

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"What can we do? We can't appeal. This was the second time we tried, we got further this time, but we will survive."

She added: "They didn't consider monthly payments either and I'm just hoping they're a bit more sensitive and considerate when they go to increase their prices again, which I've no doubt with the increase in fuel, they will. everyone's increasing prices."

Up until 2020 the three swimming ponds were free to enter, with donation boxes on all sites.

A single adult ticket, which cost £4 when introduced in 2020, and was raised to £4.05 last year, is now £4.25. The concession rate for disabled swimmers or people on Universal Credit has risen to £2.55 from £2.43 last year.

A six-month Ponds swimming pass is currently £70.10 or £42.50 at the concession rate, while an annual pass is £132.80 or £79.70.

Christina was supported by the members of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association.

Mary Powell, association secretary said: "This is of course disappointing news but we are pleased to have been able to support Christina in this case, which was very important to bring.

"We will also continue to campaign through other channels for the return of inclusivity at the bathing ponds, which had provided a safe and healing space for so many people in the past regardless of their income.  

Hampstead swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice

Hampstead swimmers outside the Royal Courts of Justice over charges at the Kenwood Ladies Pond for disabled swimmers - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

"The City of London Corporation cannot be allowed to turn Hampstead Heath and the bathing ponds into an exclusive facility for affluent people at the expense of low income Londoners, including many people with disabilities."

Leigh Day solicitor Kate Egerton, Christina's lawyer, said: “We believe the Judge mischaracterised Christina’s case as being about impecuniosity as opposed to disability, and did not give relevant weight to the significant volume of evidence that was provided to the Court about the extra costs disabled people face, and the unique benefits disabled people derive from cold-water swimming. 

“The judge also said that charging disabled people to access the Ponds at a level they could afford would give them preferential treatment over others on low income.

"However, the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the Equality Act 2010 specifically provides disabled people with additional protections."

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation said: “We are pleased that our support for disabled swimmers has been recognised by the Court as fair and reasonable.

“The charity offers a range of support to disabled swimmers, including free entry for carers, to ensure people are fully supported, and a telephone booking system is in place.

“We offer a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and for those on low income. 

“It means that affordable, safe, and sustainable outdoor swimming will continue to be available to people of all abilities and backgrounds, for generations to come.

"All income is reinvested by the Hampstead Heath charity back into the service."

The City did not provide comment on calls for monthly direct debit payments to be made available.