Campaigners win first round of legal battle over Hampstead Ponds charges
Christina Efthimiou, a Disabled woman, has won permission for a judicial review of a new charging scheme introduced at the famous Hampstead Ponds in North London. Christina, who is 59 and receives disability-related benefits, has claimed the new scheme is discriminatory as she has been priced out of accessing the ponds which are crucial to her ability to manage her disability. She says the ponds also provide mental and physical benefits.
Christina has several health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and sees swimming at the ponds as a lifeline. Her story highlights how often cost is a barrier to access for Disabled people who want to engage with sport or physical activity.
Christina’s legal argument hinges on the belief that the City of London Corporation, which manages the Heath where the pools are located, breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments to the charging scheme, and that the new changes indirectly discriminate against Disabled people. The case is now likely to be heard before the end of the year, as a High Court judge has said her case is arguable under the 2010 Equality Act.
Speaking to The Guardian, Christina said: “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,”.
The first enforced mandatory fees were imposed at the Ponds in March 2020 following a self-policed system that has been in place since 2005, before which it was free. Now the 6-month pass price has changed with a 140% increase in concession charges. Christina argues that the new policy introduced in April adversely affects Disabled people disproportionately, in clear contravention of section 19 of the Equality Act.
She notes that this new cost was unaffordable as a one-off payment for Disabled people who rely on benefits, and The Corporation had declined requests to allow people to spread the cost by paying monthly. She also pointed out that single ticket prices are too expensive for those on low incomes – and she wouldn’t have been able to swim if she didn’t get help from her family.
Christina is eligible for free swims before 9.30 am when she turns 60 next year but early swimming will not be feasible as she is mostly reliant on a friend to accompany her as her carer.
“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.