Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings guidance

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 23 Apr 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

The Regulations are very clear – people must wear a face covering unless they are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances.

People who are exempt from wearing a face covering should not be denied access to any space.

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.

These 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. Such people should ensure 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
  • in any indoor communal area in a workplace where there are no measures in place to keep people separated by either a partition or distance of at least 2 metres
  • 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

Where an exemption applies, an individual should not be made to wear a face covering or denied access to places where face coverings are required. However, there may be other occasions when they can wear a face covering, 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, rather than not wearing any covering at all.

These reasons do not count as reasons not to wear a face covering:

  • not wanting to wear one - including if they steam up your glasses
  • 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

Exemption cards

It is not mandatory for those who are exempt to have 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: 23 Apr 2021 -