Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): face coverings

Published: 30 Oct 2020
Last updated: 3 Sep 2021 - see all updates

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

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

Face covering exemptions

By law, you must wear a face covering in the places listed in the previous section unless you are exempt from doing so because of specific circumstances.

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. Likewise, people who are exempt should not be denied access to places where face coverings are required.

The vast majority of people can wear a face covering. That includesing 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 covering safely, such as well-managed asthma
  • if you are deaf and lip read
  • if they steam up your glasses

Exemptions include, but are not limited to:

  • 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 and young people with breathing difficulties and disabled children and young people 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 (including universities and colleges indoor settingsand they are separated from others, either by a partition or maintaining a distance of at least 1 metre
  • when seated in a hospitality setting (note that on public transport a face covering must be worn when not eating or drinking)
  • 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 1 metre distance is maintained and remove the face covering only temporarily whilst communicating and replace it immediately afterwards
  • babies, toddlers and all other children and young people under 12 years old
  • undertaking tasks in the course of their employment, where the wearing of a face covering would cause a material risk of harm
  • taking part in exercise of a type which reasonably requires that the person is not wearing a face covering additional exemptions are set out in the Regulations
  • to receive a close contact treatment or service to the mouth or nose area, so long as the person providing the treatment or service is wearing appropriate protective equipment as detailed in the close contact guidance. The face covering must only be removed as long as is necessary to receive the treatment/provide the service to that area and immediately replaced afterwards

There may be some situations 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 specific to the particular circumstances.

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

Information on how to support those who are exempt from wearing a face coverings is available.

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 Face Covering Exemption Card Service 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: 3 Sep 2021 -