Christina Efthimiou, 59, a regular user of the ponds for the last four years, is seeking judicial review of the decision to implement a new charging regime from April 1.
She is disabled and claims to be among a group of swimmers who will be “priced out” of using the Kenwood Ladies Pond thanks to the change.
Ms Efthimiou says using the ponds is an essential part of managing her disability, and the benefits of cold-water swimming on health and wellbeing have been chartered in recent years.
“I have been swimming at the Ladies’ Pond for around four years”, she said.
“The benefits to me are immense and if I have to stop using the ponds for my regular exercise I don’t know what I will be able to do instead.
“I and many others will be priced out by the charges which will change the ponds to a privilege for the better off.”
Ms Efthimiou, from Camden, is being supported in her judicial review bid by the Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association (KPLA), which says it has been in discussions with the City of London Corporation about a fair charging scheme.
“The KLPA provided evidence to the City that the increased charges were having a disproportionate impact on disadvantaged swimmers and asked them to reconsider their charges for the 2021 season”, a spokesperson said.
“However, this was disregarded, and the City has increasingly sought to increase charges to swim, despite the onset of a pandemic causing great financial and mental stress to the local community.”
It was free to swim in the popular Ponds under 2005, and a charging regime that was then introduced was self-policed – allowing those who could not afford the £2 fee to continue swimming.
However a review of fees led to the introduction of mandatory charges, with prices set at £4.05 for an adult ticket or £2.43 for a concession.
In her legal case, Ms Efthimiou argues the new 2021 charging regime disproportionality affects people with disabilities, and that the Corporation has refused to allow people to spread the cost of a season ticket by paying monthly. She is arguing discrimination under the Equality Act and a breach of the Corporation’s human rights duties.
“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”, said Kate Egerton, solicitor at law firm Leigh Day which has brought Ms Efthimiou’s legal challenge.
“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 said: “The Heath’s swimming facilities are accessible to people of all abilities and backgrounds.
“The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40 per cent 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.”
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