Face mask exemptions: Who doesn’t have to wear a covering in the UK?


FACE masks and coverings are now compulsory in most public settings – but some people are exempt from having to wear one.

Brits now have to wear face masks in shops, supermarkets and on public transport, but there are times you can take it off without risking a fine.

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Face masks became compulsory in shops and supermarkets from July 24 in England

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Face masks became compulsory in shops and supermarkets from July 24 in EnglandCredit: Rick Findler

Who is exempt from wearing a face mask?

While masks are compulsory in most public settings, there are exceptions to those who need to wear them.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: “There will be exceptions to these rules for very young children, disabled people and those with breathing difficulties.”

According to the official Government guidance, the following groups are not required to wear a face-covering while using public transport or in a shop:

  • A child under the age of 11
  • An employee of the transport operator, shop or supermarket, when they are acting in the course of their employment
  • Any other person providing services to the transport operator or shop, under arrangements made with the business, who is providing those services
  • A constable or police community support officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An emergency responder such as a paramedic or fire officer acting in the course of their duty
  • An official, for example, a border force officer, acting in the course of their duties
  • If you are allocated a cabin, berth or other similar accommodation, at any time when you are in that accommodation, either alone, or only with members of your own household or a linked household
  • If you are on board public transport but remain in your private vehicle, for example on a car ferry
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People with breathing difficulties, disabled people and babies are among those exempt from wearing a face mask

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People with breathing difficulties, disabled people and babies are among those exempt from wearing a face maskCredit: Getty Images – Getty

There are also a series of factors which the Government describes as a “reasonable excuse”, which also means you don’t have to wear a mask:

  • Young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3)
  • 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 the risk of harm, and you do not have a face covering with you
  • To eat or drink if reasonably necessary
  • In order to take medication
  • If a police officer or other official asks you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are allowed to remove a face covering when asked:

  • If asked to do so in a bank, building society, or post office for identification
  • If asked to do so by shop staff or relevant employees for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist.
  • For age identification purposes including when buying age restricted products like alcohol
  • 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 them communicate.
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You are also not required to wear a facemask if you are in hospitality settings like restaurants with table service, bars and pubs.

They are also not required in entertainment venues like cinemas or casinos, visitor attractions such as heritage sites or museums, and exercise and sports venues like gyms.

For exemptions in different parts of the UK please refer to the specific government guidance for Northern IrelandScotland and Wales.

Those who do not have to wear a mask will be asked to carry an exemption card

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Those who do not have to wear a mask will be asked to carry an exemption card

What is a face mask exemption card and how can you get one?

Those who are exempted from wearing a face mask could be asked to show a “face-covering exemption” ID of some sort.

This is a personal choice, and is not necessary in law.

The government says that this could be in the form of an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

The travel exemption card is available to download for free on the TfL website, and can be used with other operators.

Alternatively you can download and print one for general use here.

People who do not wear a face mask could be fined £100

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People who do not wear a face mask could be fined £100Credit: AFP or licensors

Will travellers be refused boarding without a face mask?

Travellers who are not among the exempt categories will be refused boarding if they are not wearing a mask or told to get off.

Mr Shapps said: “The evidence suggests that wearing a face masks offers some, limited protection.

“You can be refused travel if you don’t comply and you could be fined.

“It’s a condition of travel. You cannot travel if you are not wearing a face covering.”

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New rules on wearing masks in shops will be enforced by the police

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New rules on wearing masks in shops will be enforced by the policeCredit: Alamy Live News

Will shoppers be allowed in stores without a face mask?

From July 24 it has been mandatory for people in England to wear face masks in shops and supermarkets.

Shopkeepers have been asked to implement the new rules in their stores.

But ultimately, the new rules on wearing masks in shops will be enforced by the police, not shop workers.

Anyone spotted flouting the new rules could be hit with a £100 fine.

Doctors have insisted masks are crucial to slow the spread of coronavirus and make life safer for the most vulnerable.

On July 14, Chair of the British Medical Association’s Medical Academic Staff Committee and Exeter University lecturer Dr David Strain said: “We need masks to slow the spread and make life safer for the most vulnerable to go about essential activities.

Yesterday more than 500 people tested positive for the virus, which the ONS figures suggest is only about a third of the true number of new cases in the UK.

“The remaining two thirds of the population with the virus are the ‘silent spreaders’, people who carry and can potentially spread the virus despite having no symptoms themselves.

“The mandatory use of face coverings will reduce the risk to the population at large from these individuals.”

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