Who is exempt from wearing a face covering?

Face masks have long become a daily companion for many of us! But did you know that there are certain situations where you don’t have to wear one even in places where they’re usually required? Let’s take a look at when you might be exempt from wearing a face mask. Please be aware that the rules are different for England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland so be sure to always double check!

England

In England you will be exempt from wearing a face covering due to any of the following reasons:

  • You’re a child under the age of 11. Children under this age aren’t required to wear a face mask, however, if you or your child feels safer when wearing one, they can. Public Health England (PHE) advises that children under the age of 3 shouldn’t wear a face covering for health and safety reasons.
  • You have a mental or physical illness, impairment, or disability that makes it very difficult or impossible for you to put on, wear, or take off a face covering.
  • Putting on or wearing a face mask causes you severe distress.
  • You are with someone who relies on reading your lips or your facial expressions in order to communicate with you.
  • Wearing a face mask would interfere with your ability to do your job, this includes police officers or paramedics.

Even if none of the above-mentioned reasons apply to you, there are certain situations where you will be allowed to remove your face mask, at least temporarily:

  • Someone in a bank, post office, or building society asks you to take off your face covering for the purpose of identification.
  • Staff at a shop asks you to take off your face covering for the purpose of age identification (usually when you buy age restricted items) or health assessments (mostly true in pharmacies).
  • You’re receiving a service that requires your face to be free, for example when receiving a facial treatment.
  • You’re taking medication, eating, or drinking.
  • You’re praying at a place of worship.
  • You’re getting married. However, please be aware that it’s only bride and groom who are allowed to take off their face masks.
  • You’re exercising and it would have a negative impact on your ability to do so.
  • You’re working as a professional dancer, referee, or you’re an elite sports person and you are currently performing/working.
  • Once you’re sat down at a restaurant, pub, bar, or café. You have to put your face covering back on when you leave your table to go to the toilet or when leaving the hospitality premise.

Exemption card
If you are exempt from wearing a face covering, there’s no need for you to prove this by carrying any form of confirmation like a letter from your GP or similar. However, if you feel more comfortable when carrying some form of proof, you can always choose to wear an exemption card or badge. You could even make a little card yourself! Just always remember that no one can force you to show proof of exemption as this is not required by law. Should you wish to carry an exemption card or badge, you can download a template from the government website. Depending on your personal preference, you can either print these templates out and carry them around with you, or you can simply keep it on your mobile phone and show it to people when asked why you’re not wearing a face mask.

Scotland

In Scotland, the following groups don’t have to wear face coverings in areas where they are usually required:

  • Children under the age of 5.
  • Public servants, such as police officers or paramedics, when they’re providing a public service.
  • Workers like checkout staff or taxi drivers that are separated from their customers by a screen.
  • Any shop worker as long as they keep a distance of 2 metres from all customers.

Similar to the rules in England, there are certain situations where you’ll be allowed to take off your face mask even if none of the rules mentioned above applies to you.

  • You’re taking medication, you’re eating, or you’re drinking.
  • You suffer from a medical condition, mental health condition, or have a disability that would make wearing a face covering difficult or impossible, would cause you severe anxiety or distress or would make it very difficult for you to put a face covering on and take it off again.
  • You’re with somebody that relies on lip reading to communicate.
  • A relevant person, like a police officer or shop worker, asks you to remove your face mask for the purpose of identification.

Exemption cards
There’s no need for you to provide any written proof of your exemption but you might feel more comfortable if you have something with you that you can show to people if they ask. So, if any of the above-mentioned reasons apply to you, you can fill out this online form and get a physical or digital exemption card sent to you by the Scottish government. If you’re unable to fill out the online form, you can call 0800 121 6240 to request your exemption card.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, the following people are exempt from wearing a face covering:

  • Children under the age of 13.
  • Pupils on school transport.
  • Employees who are separated from customers by a plastic screen.
  • You’re living with a physical or mental illness, disability, or impairment that makes it impossible for you to put on, wear, or take off your face mask.
  • Wearing a face covering causes you severe distress or anxiety.
  • You’re helping someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.
  • You’re doing something to avoid harm or injury to yourself or others.
  • You’re eating, drinking, or taking medicines.
  • An official figure, like a police officer, asks you to remove your face covering.

As in England and Scotland, there’s no need for you to provide written proof of your exemption to anybody. You’ll only need to say that you’re exempt when asked.

Wales

If you live in Wales, you’re exempt from wearing a face covering due to the following reasons:

  • You have a physical or mental illness, or you have any other condition that makes it impossible for you to put on, wear, or take off a face mask.
  • You’re with someone that relies on lip reading for communication.
  • You’re running away from danger, like domestic abuse or a house fire, and don’t have a face covering with you.

Even if the above-mentioned reasons don’t apply to you, there are certain reasons why you can temporarily remove your face covering.

  • You’re eating, drinking, or you’re taking medication.
  • You need to get somebody’s attention because of a dangerous situation.
  • You’re receiving a treatment or service that requires you to take off your face covering.
  • Someone asks you to take it off because they have difficulty understanding you.
  • For identification purposes in banks, building societies, the post office, or in a shop when you’re buying age restricted items.

If you’re exempt from wearing a face covering, there’s no need for you to show written evidence, like a doctor’s note, for this. However, if you feel more comfortable when you have something to show, you can wear an exemption card or badge. You can download templates for this from the Welsh Government and Transport of Wales.

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