Disabled swimmer loses High Court case over London swimming pond prices

A 60-year-old disabled swimmer lost his High Court case over ticket prices at a ‘unique’ London swimming pond.

Cristina Efthymiou said prices at Kenwood Ladies’ Bathing Pond in Hampstead Heath “spawn unlawful disability discrimination”.

She sued the City of London, whose lawyers disputed her claim.

On Thursday, the judge ruled against her.

Mr Justice Kotter considered this argument in a High Court hearing in London earlier this year.

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Swimmers gather outside the Crown Court in London for hearings (Victoria Jones/PA)

Ms Efthymiou watched the hearing via video link, but several of her friends and fellow swimmers were in court and posed for photos outside in their swimsuits.

A lawyer representing Ms. Efthymiou, who lives in Camden, told Mr. Judge Cotter that the pond is a “unique place.”

Zoë Löwenthal said it was the only natural pond in Europe exclusively for women.

Ms. Efthymiou, a member of the Kenwood Women’s Ponds Association, argued that the fee regime, which went into effect in April 2021, is disproportionate and negatively impacts people with disabilities.

Members of the Kenwood Women’s Ponds Association supported her statement.

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Swimmers from Hampstead Ponds head to the Crown Court in London (Victoria Jones/PA)

A barrister representing the City of London told the judge that Ms Efthymiou’s claim should be dismissed.

Clive Sheldon QC said Kenwood Women’s Bathing Pond is one of three bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath.

“Ticket prices are low compared to the operating costs of the ponds,” he told the judge.

“Prices for disabled swimmers are even cheaper. All disabled swimmers receive a 40% discount.”

He said the standard price for one swim was £4.05, with disabled swimmers paying £2.43.

Mr Sheldon added: “It cannot be right for service providers to legally charge lower prices to people with disabilities or other groups with protected characteristics.”

Ms Efthymiou told the judge in testimony that swimming is “the best exercise available to her” and said the “pools” have become something she relies on “mentally, emotionally and physically.”

She said the impact of regular access to the ponds on her disability is “huge” because she doesn’t have to take “so many painkillers”.

In a written ruling, Mr Justice Cotter said that there were three bathing ponds on Hampstead Heath: a women’s pond, a men’s pond and a mixed pond.

He said that the ladies’ pond had been in use since 1925.

“Of the three swimming ponds, it has historically had the most accessibility for disabled swimmers, with an access level, accessible toilet and shower, and a lift in the pond,” he said.

“In 2019/20, there were 655,000 visits to the Women’s Pond.”

The judge stated: “The plaintiff’s case is that the defendant, by accepting and refusing to revise the updated charging policy on February 24, 2021 (effective from April 1, 2021), violated its duty to make reasonable adjustments for people with disabilities like her in pursuant to sections of the … Equality Act 2010.”

He added: “The policy is said to put persons with disabilities at a significant disadvantage in terms of access to swimming in the ponds on Hampstead Heath.

“Furthermore, the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to reduce or eliminate the disadvantage, despite various requests and suggestions made by the plaintiff and others.

“Alternatively, it is argued that the charging policy constitutes indirect discrimination against people with disabilities.”

He said the City of London disputed the claim.

“Defendant believes that heavily subsidized prices, including a 40 percent discount for disabled swimmers, cannot lead to unlawful disability discrimination,” the judge said.

“At no time has it been established that ‘service providers’ are required under the Equality Act 2010 to provide goods and services at a reduced cost to persons with disabilities.”

Mr Justice Kotter said he concluded that the fee structure “does not place the disabled person at a significant disadvantage compared to people who are not disabled.”

“The plaintiff’s argument violates the principle of ensuring socio-economic equality and provides disabled people (many of whom will not be low-income) preferential treatment over all other low-income people,” he said.

“In my opinion, the court must be careful not to allow the 2010 Act to be used to achieve the exact opposite of what it was passed for.”

He said he was satisfied that the City of London had established that “it did not fail to make reasonable adjustments”.

The judge added: “I am also satisfied that the charging policy is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.”