New regulations for swimming at Hampstead ponds in London are being challenged by a disabled woman who claims they are discriminatory.
Christina Efthimiou is a regular swimmer at the pond claiming the activity improves her physical and mental health.
But the 59-year-old, who has a number of health conditions including rheumatoid arthritis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is unhappy with the new charging system which she believes discriminates against disabled people.
A high court judge has agreed the City of London Corporation (CoLC), which manages the Heath, has broken the Equality Act 2010 and Christina’s case is likely to be heard later this year.
Efthimiou told the Guardian: “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.
“My breathing can happen organically and it fills me with elation. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
The CoLC raised swimming prices for a second time this year, the first being in March, with a disproportionate increase for disabled people receiving benefits, such as Christina. The swimming was free up until 2005, since then prices have been raised by 140%.
When the price was raised again on 1 April 2021 with a disproportionate rise for people with disabilities Efthimiou believed this was a breach of section 19 of the Equality Act.
Under the new pricing system a six-month pass increased by 1.3 per cent, but the pass for concessionary swimmers rose by 21.5 per cent to £40.11 and a 12-month pass by 15.1% to £75.97.
Visitors over the age of 60 can swim for free before 9.30am, but Christina, who will fall into the age bracket next year, said the early time slot will not be suitable for her and the friend she takes to assist her.
“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.
She added: “If I couldn’t go it would be devastating, it’s the one thing that’s been a real benefit to me.”
Mary Powell, vice-chair of Kenwood Ladies’ Pond Association said: “Until now [the CoLC] has been dismissive of the concerns we raised about exclusion from the bathing ponds … It is still possible to find a way to make the ponds accessible again and we urge the City to co-operate in this.”
A CoLC spokesperson said: “The Hampstead Heath charity offers a 40% swimming discount to disabled people, and a season ticket brings the cost down to as little as £1.46 per week.
“We subsidised swimming at the bathing ponds by nearly £600,000 last year 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.”
Christina Efthimiou has swum in the ladies pond at Hampstead for the past four years.
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