'Poverty' rather than 'disability' hits access to swimming ponds, court told

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

A high court judge has heard that financial difficulties rather than disability might affect access to the ponds.

A judicial review on the charging regime at the ladies' pond at Hampstead Heath concluded on Thursday, February 24, with the City of London Corporation (CoLC) defending its position.

The case was brought in the High Court by disabled swimmer Christina Efthimiou, supported by the Kenwood Ladies' Pond Association (KLPA), who claims the charges are discriminatory towards disabled people.  

Clive Sheldon QC, speaking on behalf of CoLC, said 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”.

Most Read

Replying to the claim that the charging policy discriminates against disabled people, he said that concessions are in place and that removing charges for disabled people would give rise to “endemic unlawful discrimination across the UK”.

Zoe Leventhal QC, speaking on behalf of Ms Efthimiou, 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,” Ms Leventhal said.

The KPLA crowdfunded £13,000 for the case. A judgement is due in the coming weeks.