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Disabled Woman Wins Permission For Judicial Review Of Hampstead Ponds Charges

August 11, 2021

A disabled woman has won permission for a judicial review of the new charging regime for swimming at Hampstead ponds in north London, which she claims is discriminatory.

Christina Efthimiou, 59, who receives disability-related benefits, has swum regularly at the ladies’ pond for the last four years but was priced out of access to the water, which is an essential part of managing her disability and hugely benefits her physical and mental health.

She argues that the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath, has breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments in its charging regime and that the charges indirectly discriminate against disabled people.

A high court judge has said her case is arguable under the Equality Act 2010 and is likely to be heard before the end of the year.

“I’ve got challenges from the moment I wake up, but when I’m there, mentally, emotionally and physically I feel on top of the world,” Efthimiou, who has a number of health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), told the Guardian. “My breathing can happen organically and it fills me with elation. It’s an indescribable feeling.”

Represented by law firm Leigh Day and supported by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), of which she is a member, Efthimiou applied for permission for judicial review earlier this year after the CoLC raised ticket prices for a second time, with a disproportionate increase for concessions – for which disabled people on benefits are eligible.

The CoLC first enforced mandatory fees in March last year, replacing the self-policed system that had been in place since 2005. Prior to that, swimming was free. Charges for adults were doubled and concessions charges were raised by 140%.

Efthimiou argues that the regime introduced on 1 April 2021, which increased the 2020 charges, adversely affects people with disabilities disproportionately, contrary to section 19 of the Equality Act.

While non-concessionary rates rose in line with inflation at 1.3%, the cost of a concessionary six-month pass was increased by 21.5% to £40.11 and a 12-month pass by 15.1% to £75.97.

Efthimiou said this was unaffordable as a one-off payment for disabled people who rely on benefits and the CoLC had refused to allow people to spread the cost by paying monthly or consider reducing the cost.

She also argues that single ticket prices are prohibitive for people on low incomes – it proved too expensive for her and it was only with help from her family that she was able to continue swimming.

And although she will qualify for free swims before 9.30am when she turns 60 next year, Efthimiou, who mostly relies on a friend to accompany her as her carer, says the early morning slot will not make the ponds more accessible for her. “When you’ve got disabilities you can’t plan like that. Being able to go when my body allows me doesn’t fit into a booking system,” she said.

She added: “If I couldn’t go it would be devastating, it’s the one thing that’s been a real benefit to me.”

Mary Powell, the KLPA vice-chair, said: “Until now [the CoLC] has been dismissive of the concerns we raised about exclusion from the bathing ponds … It is still possible to find a way to make the ponds accessible again and we urge the City to co-operate in this.”

A CoLC spokesperson said: “The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket brings the cost down to as little as £1.46 per week.

“We subsidised swimming at the bathing ponds by nearly £600,000 last year and we offer a comprehensive support scheme, including free morning swims for under-16s and over-60s. Concessions apply to disabled people and those in receipt of state benefits.”

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