Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 2 Aug 2021 - see all updates

Explains where you need to wear a face covering and exemptions from wearing one.

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance
Face covering exemptions

Face covering exemptions

People must wear a face covering unless they are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering, including most people with a lung condition such as asthma, and everyone who can wear a face covering in the mandated spaces is legally required to do so.

However, we recognise that there are situations where a person is unable to, or it would be inappropriate, for them to wear a face covering.

The list below does not count as reasons to not wear a face covering:

  • not wanting to wear one
  • mild discomfort when wearing one
  • having a health condition or disability which does not prevent you from wearing a face coverings safely, such as well-managed asthma
  • if you are deaf and lip read
  • if they steam up your glasses

Exemptions include:

  • when a person has a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability (within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010) (which might include hidden disabilities, for example, autism, dementia or a learning disability) which prevents them wearing a face covering. This may include children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering
  • when a person is unable to wear a face covering without suffering severe distress as a result
  • when taking medication which requires removing a face covering
  • when a worker or volunteer is in an indoor part of their workplace and they are separated from others, either by a partition or maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres
  • when seated in a hospitality setting
  • to eat or drink
  • when communicating with someone who relies on lip reading and facial expressions to communicate. If this person is outside your household you should  ensure a careful distancing of at least 2 metres distance is maintained and remove the face covering only temporarily whilst communicating and replace it immediately afterwards
  • babies, toddlers and all other children under 5
  • undertaking tasks in the course of their employment, where the wearing of a face covering would cause a material risk of harm
  • additional exemptions are set out in the Regulations

When wearing face coverings indoors we should also maintain 1m physical distance. 

Exemptions exist within the regulations for workers or volunteers who can choose to remove their face covering in an indoor part of their workplace if they are separated from others, either by a partition or if they can maintain 2 metres distance. 

Face coverings provide protection to those around the wearer and some protection to the wearer. If a face covering is removed, it is important to maintain 2m distance as a precautionary measure.

People who are exempt should not be made to wear a face covering or denied access to places where face coverings are required.

There may be some occasions when a person  can wear a face covering and others when they can’t, so they should consider whether they are able to wear a face covering on each given day and in the particular circumstances.

Alternatively, they may be able to wear a face shield and should do as it is safer than not wearing any covering.

Exemption cards

It is not mandatory for those who are exempt to prove their exemption.

However, the person can request a free face covering exemption card on 0800 121 6240 or through the exemption card website.

Those exempt under the regulations should not be forced to wear a face covering and no one should be abused or treated in an unacceptable way.

We ask for people to be aware of the exemptions and to treat each other with kindness, especially when asking why someone is not wearing a face covering.


First published: 30 Oct 2020 Last updated: 2 Aug 2021 -