A woman who regularly swims in the ponds of Hampstead is taking legal action against the City of London Corporation, claiming that the new fee system discriminates against disabled people.
Christina Efthimiou, who is disabled and receives disability benefits, has been swimming at the ladies’ pond for four years. She is a member of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), which she assists in the judicial review of the corporation.
Efthimiou, 59, says that for her and many others, access to the ponds is an essential part of dealing with disabilities and that the value of cold water swimming to physical and mental health is widely recognized.
“The benefits for me are immense,” she said. “When I no longer have to use the ponds for my regular exercise, I don’t know what to do instead. Myself and many others are priced out by the fees, which makes the ponds a privilege for the better. “
Christina Efthimiou, 59, has been swimming at the ladies’ pond for four years. Photo: Handout
Mary Powell, KLPA vice chairwoman, said the ladies pond has provided refuge for women and girls in the past, including those with disabilities, victims of violence and abuse, and those from faith groups who demand humility, but the new fee system proved to be the best for many People as exclusive. While the legal case specifically addresses the disproportionate impact on disabled people, access for other groups was also affected, Powell said.
“There are restrictions on free swimming for those over 60 before 9:30 am, especially for older members or those with fluctuating health conditions who cannot come to the ponds that early or need to be escorted,” she said. “Times also collide with the use of Oyster 60+ or freedom passes, which negates the advantage of free swimming.”
Swimming in the bathing ponds at Hampstead Heath was free until 2005. Despite fierce opposition from the local community, the City of London Corporation (CoLC), which has operated the world-famous ponds since 1989, introduced a fee regime, although it was self-regulated, so that people who couldn’t afford it could still access to pay.
Following a review last January, the CoLC introduced mandatory fees for the first time in the history of ponds. KLPA said it did so despite strong support from swimming federations for putting in place a system that could increase income without excluding people who cannot pay.
However, the group opted for increased mandatory fees, which included doubling adult prices and increasing the concessions by 140%, which it believed were necessary to sustainably fund maintenance of the ponds.
In February 2021, the CoLC increased the tariffs again. While the non-discounted tariffs were raised by 1.3% in line with inflation, the cost of a six-month pass for those on social security, including the disabled, rose 21.5% to £ 40.11 and a 12-month pass – Card increases 15.1% to £ 75.97.
The CoLC’s refusal to allow installment payments and facilitate cash payments are additional obstacles for disadvantaged swimmers, Powell said.
In the lawsuit, Efthimiou argues that the new charging regime, which came into effect April 1, disproportionately affects people with disabilities and that the City of London has violated its duty to make reasonable adjustments; has discriminated against her and other disabled people contrary to Section 19 of the Equal Opportunities Act; and has violated his obligations under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights, read with Article 8.
She is calling on the court to overturn the company’s decision to bring the increased charges on the grounds that the regime is unlawfully discriminating against the disabled.
Kate Egerton, attorney at Leigh Day Law Firm, said, “We believe that the City of London has failed to address the impact of its charging system on disabled swimmers and its equality obligations to disabled swimmers in the ponds to manage their health.
“The current fee system shows a complete lack of understanding of the financial situation of those who live on social benefits and the significant physical and psychological benefits that swimming in ponds has for disabled people.”
A CoLC spokesman said: “The Hampstead Heath charity is offering a 40% discount on swimming for disabled people, and a season pass for the bathing ponds cuts swimming costs to just £ 1.46 per week.
“We subsidized swimming at the bathing ponds with nearly £ 600,000 in 2020/21 and have a full support program, including free morning swimming for under 16s and over 60s. Discounts apply to disabled people and those receiving state benefits.
“The swimming fees are reinvested to ensure that as many people as possible have affordable, safe and sustainable access to outdoor swimming for generations to come.”