Decision awaited after Ponds swimmers' two days in court

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

Hampstead Heath ponds swimmers braved the cold in their swimming costumes outside the Royal Courts of Justice last week, hoping the cost of taking a dip will be reduced or scrapped for the disabled.

A judicial review to determine whether the City of London Corporation's (CoLC) charging regime to swim at the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds discriminates against disabled people was heard over two days last week (February 23 and 24).

The review was brought by disabled swimmer Christina Efthimiou, who lives in Kentish Town, and supported by the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association (KLPA).

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 60-year-old, who watched the case by video link, claims the CoLC’s compulsory charging system at the bathing ponds, introduced in 2020, disproportionately affects people with disabilities.

The CoLC disputes the claim.

Barrister Zoe Lethenthal, representing Ms Efthimiou, told Judge Justice Cotter the ponds are a "unique space" and there is a "real barrier" posed to  disabled users.

"The Kenwood Ladies Pond is a unique space in Europe. It has a rich history and a unique atmosphere," she said.

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"It is not comparable to a leisure centre or a swimming pool, nor a reservoir you can swim in."

Challenged by the judge on what what makes it unique as elsewhere open water swimming had pricing structures, she said it is a "qualitative difference".

Pond swimmers (l-r) Mary Powell, Martin Fahey and Pauline Latchen protesting outside the Royal Court of Justice

Pond swimmers (l-r) Mary Powell, Martin Fahey and Pauline Latchen protesting outside the Royal Court of Justice - Credit: Polly Hancock

Ms Lethanthal said a disabled person is likely to have medical, social and economic consequences in their lives and accused the CoLC of not monitoring the impacts of their pricing structure.

"If you take away the swimming ponds for the claimant, it has a disproportionate effect on them because they need it for the benefits it brings," she said.

She said a reasonable adjustment to charges would be to make swimming free for disabled users,  to reduce costs by introducing direct debit, or the introducing a hardship fund which Justice Cotter said was "too discretionary" and a "nebulous concept".

In her witness statement, KLPA member Ms Efthimiou, who is 60, said the Ladies' Pond has become something she relies on mentally, emotionally and physically.

She said the impact of regular access to the ponds during the week “is huge as I do not need to take as much pain relief as I was previously taking”. 

A barrister representing the CoLC told the judge Ms Efthimiou’s claim should be dismissed.

Clive Sheldon QC told the judge: “Ticket prices are modest and subsidised by the corporation.

“Charges for disabled swimmers are even cheaper and more heavily subsidised because they incorporate a concession.”

He said the standard price for a single swim is £4.05 and disabled swimmers pay £2.43.

He added that if charges might reduce disabled swimmers access to the ponds, this is due to financial means, rather than disability. 

“The mere fact that you are disabled does not affect access to the ponds. Poverty is not intrinsic to disability,” he said.

“If disabled swimmers cannot afford to access the ponds, they suffer that disadvantage because of impecuniosity, not disability.”

In response to the reasonable adjustment to charges proposed by the claimant, Mr Sheldon said removing payment for disabled people would mean a hit to revenue of up to £60,000. 

“Subsidising more for swimming would mean there is less money available for other activities,” he said.

Mr Sheldon said introducing a direct debit system would add additional costs and “might represent a loss for the charity”.

 Pauline Latchem, a deaf member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association at the Royal Courts of Justice 

Pauline Latchem, a deaf member of the Kenwood Ladies Pond Association at the Royal Courts of Justice - Credit: Nathalie Raffray

He added: “It cannot be right that service providers are required by law to charge lower prices to disabled persons, or to other groups with protected characteristics.”

Ms Leventhal hit back, saying “the ponds were historically free” and have been free for almost 100 years.

She said that Hampstead Heath Charity is “a not-for-profit charity committed to inclusion, including financial and physical inclusion”.

“People with disabilities are subjected to far higher costs than people without disabilities, for them not to be able to swim has consequences,” she said.

The ruling is due in four to six weeks.