Judicial review application issued against ‘discriminatory’ charges at swimming ponds

An application for a judicial review has been made against the City of London over the impact on disabled swimmers of its decision to raise ticket prices at the Hampstead Heath swimming ponds.

The application for judicial review has been brought by Christina Efthimiou, who is disabled and receives disability-related benefits. She swims regularly at the ponds and has done for around four years.

A self-policed charge of £2 to swim at the ponds was introduced in 2005. Before 2005, swimming was free of charge. When the self-policed ticket price was in place, the corporation estimated that 3.7% of users paid the charge.

A review in 2020 that looked at introducing a compulsory charge for access and use, led to the implementation of a mandatory charge of £4.05 for an adult ticket or £2.43 for a concession.

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By adopting the new charging regime, Ms Efthimiou argues that the City of London has breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments; has discriminated against her and other disabled people contrary to Section 19 of the Equality Act; and has breached its duties under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights read with Article 8. Article 14 protects from discrimination and Article 8 protects the right to respect for private and family life.

She is seeking to have the court quash the City of London’s decision to adopt the increased charges and declare that the new charging regime amounts to unlawful discrimination in respect of disabled people.

Leigh Day is acting on behalf of Ms Efthimiou. Kate Egerton, solicitor at Leigh Day, said: “In our view, the City of London has failed to engage with the impact its charging regime is having on disabled swimmers and to comply with its equality duties to disabled swimmers who rely on the ponds to manage their health. The current charging regime demonstrates a total lack of understanding of the financial position of those who survive on benefits and the significant physical and psychological benefits to disabled people of swimming at the ponds.”

A spokesperson for the City of London Corporation, which manages Hampstead Heath, said: “The Heath’s swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds.

“The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket at the Bathing Ponds brings the cost of swimming down to as little as £1.46 per week.

“A telephone booking system is in place, and there is free entry for carers to ensure swimming is fully accessible.

“We subsidised swimming at the Bathing Ponds by nearly £600,000 in 2020/21 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.

“Swimming charges are reinvested to ensure that affordable, safe and sustainable access to outdoor swimming is available to as many people as possible for generations to come.

“Our staff go above and beyond to ensure a friendly, and welcoming atmosphere for all swimmers.

“We are proud that Hampstead Heath is attracting a record number of swimmers, benefiting the physical and mental health of hundreds of thousands of people every year.”

Adam Carey