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Who is exempt from wearing a face mask? UK exemptions rules explained - and how to get a hidden disabilities exemption

24 March 2021

In England, face coverings are being made compulsory in shops and supermarkets from Friday 24 July, although there are certain legitimate reasons for exemption.

Update on previous rules as of 12th March 2021 

Face Mask Exemption Guidelines/Cards follow Governmental Guidance for further information - if in doubt talk to your GP 

England 

In England, the UK Government lists the following factors as legitimate circumstances not to wear a covering:

  • young children under the age of 11
  • not being able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering will cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to yourself or others
  • to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

Additionally, it includes situations where it is appropriate to remove your mask while in a location where their use is usually mandatory:

  • If asked to do so by shop staff for the purpose of age identification
  • If speaking with people who rely on lip reading, facial expressions and clear sound. Some may ask you, either verbally or in writing, to remove a covering to help with communication

Scotland

In Scotland, face coverings have been mandatory on public transport since Monday 22 June, with the rules extended to shops and supermarkets from Friday 10 July.

According to the Scottish Government’s guidelines, the following groups are not required to wear a mask:

  • children under 5 years of age
  • police constables or workers such as paramedics acting in the course of their duty
  • staff such as drivers or checkout assistants who are physically separated, by means of, for example, screens, from passengers or customers
  • shop workers if they maintain a 2 metre distance from customers or members of the public

And similarly to in England, there are circumstances with constitute a reasonable excuse not to wear one:

  • you have a health condition or you are disabled and a face covering would be inappropriate because it would cause difficulty, pain or severe distress or anxiety or because you cannot apply a covering and wear it in the proper manner safely and consistently. Individual discretion should be applied in considering the use of face coverings for other children including, for example, children with breathing difficulties and disabled children who would struggle to wear a face covering
  • you need to eat or drink
  • you are taking medication
  • you are communicating with someone else who relies on lip reading
  • a relevant person, such as a police officer, asks you to remove your face covering

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, face masks are not compulsory in shops, but public transport passengers have had to wear them since Friday 10 July.

The official guidance lists the following people as exempt:

  • on school transport
  • if you are under the age of 13
  • if you are a member of staff and are behind a protective screen
  • if you are a passenger or a member of staff and have a reasonable excuse
  • And Northern Ireland’s rules again contain a series of reasonable circumstances for not wearing face coverings:
  • if you have a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability that means you cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering
  • if putting on, wearing or removing a face covering would cause you severe distress
  • if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lip reading to communicate
  • if you need to remove it during your journey to avoid harm or injury or the risk of harm or injury to yourself or others
  • if you need to eat, drink, or take medication you can remove your face covering
  • if you are asked to remove your face covering by a police officer or other official

Official Guidance 

England

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-safer-travel-guidance-for-passengers#exemptions-face-coverings  

Scotland

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-phase-3-staying-safe-and-protecting-others/pages/face-coverings/  

Northern Ireland

https://www.nidirect.gov.uk/articles/coronavirus-covid-19-face-coverings

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