Disabled swimmer loses legal challenge over London bathing pond ticket prices

A disabled swimmer has lost a high court case over ticket prices at the Kenwood ladies’ bathing pond in Hampstead Heath in north London.

Christina Efthimiou had asked the court to overturn a 2021 increase in prices at the pond on the grounds that the cost disproportionately affected people with disabilities.

Lawyers for the City of London Corporation (CoLC) disputed her case, also rejecting Efthimiou’s claim that the corporation had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Mr Justice Cotter, who considered the argument at a high court hearing in London earlier this year, ruled against Efthimiou on Thursday.

Efthimiou, a member of the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KLPA), which backed her claim, argued that a charging regime that came into effect in April 2021 amounted to unlawful discrimination.

Efthimiou, who is disabled and receives disability-related benefits, said she and many others had been “priced out by the charges”.

She had told the court that access to the ponds was an essential part of managing disability for her and many others and that the value of cold-water swimming for physical and mental health was widely recognised.

“The benefits to me are immense,” she said. “If I have to stop using the ponds for my regular exercise I don’t know what I will be able to do instead.”

Efthimiou had watched the hearing via video link but a number of her friends and fellow swimmers were in court – and posed outside for photographs in their swimsuits.

Mary Powell, the vice-chair of the KLPA, agreed that the new charging system was proving exclusionary for many people.

Clive Sheldon QC, who represented the City of London, said 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”.

Ticket prices, he said, were cheap “relative to the ponds’ operating costs”.

Until 2005 it was free to swim in the Hampstead Heath bathing ponds. Despite fierce opposition from the local community, the CoLC implemented a self-policed charging regime.

In 2020, the corporation made the charges mandatory, at the same time doubling prices for adults and introducing a 140% rise for concessions. It said these charges were necessary to sustainably fund the upkeep of the ponds.

In 2021, CoLC increased the charges again. While non-concessionary rates were increased in line with inflation at 1.3%, the cost of a six-month pass for those eligible for concessions, including disabled people on benefits, was bumped up by 21.5% to £40.11 and a 12-month pass by 15.1% to £75.97.

Ticket prices have since increased a third time: a six-month pass for concessions is now £42.50 while a 12-month pass costs £79.70.

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