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Face mask exemptions: how to ensure you don’t get fined if you’re exempt

Face mask rules across much of the UK mean that everyone must wear a face covering when inside most public places. This includes on public transport, in shops and shopping centres, at many tourist attractions and entertainment venues, salons, and most recently, hospitality settings, such as restaurants and pubs.

But what if that is difficult for you to do because of a disability or health condition? We explain the new rules around face masks, who is exempt from wearing one and how our face mask exemption card helps to ensure you don’t get fined.

LAST UPDATE: 14th January 2021

Since June 2020, the UK has seen a number of changes to the rules around when and where face masks must be worn. As of 24th September, the list expanded again and is now be similar in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales – although there are subtle differences.

The latest changes included pubs, restaurants and cafes, as well as taxis and private hire cars, but you’ll be required to wear a face covering in most indoor public places, whether you’re staff or a customer.

If you don’t wear one when it’s mandatory, you’ll be fined £200. The fines will also double for each repeat offence – up to a maximum of £6,400.

However, in certain circumstances, disabled people and those with health conditions are exempt from wearing a face mask.

Read on for more information, and head to the Disability Horizons Shop to buy our face mask exemption card to help stop you from being refused travel or entry. 

You can also buy our social distancing lanyard and card or colourful sash to help you stay safe.

Face masks: the different types

There are a few different types of face masks or coverings:

  • Surgical/medical masks – these disposables masks are usually made from three layers of material. They help to stop large droplets infected with Covid-19 from spreading, for example, if they are coughed or sneezed out by the wearer. They also help to stop droplets from others getting to the wearer’s mouth and nose.
  • Filter face masks – these offer additional protection by filtering out smaller droplets for both the wearer and others (depending on the type of filter).
  • Face shield and visor – plastic shields and visors either cover the entire face or top of it, stopping large droplets reaching the wearer. They can be worn with other types of masks for added protection.
  • General or fabric face coverings – made from a range of different fabrics, these also stop the spread of large droplets, protecting others from Covid-19 if the wearer has it – more on this below. These are the type the public is being told to wear.

Read our full guide to filter vs medical vs fabric face masks to find out all you need to know.

You can also head to the Disability Horizons Shop to buy covid essentials, including disposable face masks, plastic gloves and extra-thick aprons.

Disposable surgical face mask

Face coverings – what’s the difference?

Face masks or coverings, also called general, cloth or fabric coverings, can be bought or made at home.

The most effective types have three layers of fabric – an absorbent layer on the inside, a middle layer that filters and a top layer that is water-proof.

They come in a range of patterns and colours, and can be made at home from old clothing. You can also simply use a scarf or balaclava, as long as it fits snuggly around your nose and mouth.

Although they limit the spread of droplets coughed or sneezed out by the person wearing one, there is little evidence to suggest that they protect the wearer.

The UK Government recommends that the general public wears these types of masks on public transport so that others are reserved for health workers and those more vulnerable to Covid-19.

You can find out more about these types of coverings and what the Government recommends in our article on filter vs medical vs fabric face masks.

You can buy disposable face masks on the Disability Horizons Shop now. 

Face masks rules

Last year, the rules on when you must wear a face mask changed repeatedly. They have also been at odds depending on where in the UK you live – England, Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales.

On 22nd September, the Government announced new additions to the rules and, for the most part, they are now the same wherever you are.

Broadly speaking, throughout the UK, face masks have to be worn by customers and staff in public indoor places, particularly where social distancing may be difficult and where you will come into contact with people you don’t normally meet.

More specifically, face masks must be worn in the following places, with examples for each area:

  • public transport – aeroplanes, trains, trams and buses
  • transport hubs – airports, rail and tram stations and terminals, maritime ports and terminals, bus and coach stations and terminals
  • taxis and private hire vehicles – both customers and drivers
  • shops and supermarkets – places that offer goods or services for retail sale or hire
  • shopping centres – malls and indoor markets
  • bars, pubs, restaurants and cafes – except when seated at a table to eat or drink
  • places providing legal or financial services – post offices, banks, building societies, high-street solicitors and accountants, credit unions, short-term loan providers, savings clubs and money service businesses
  • places offering personal care and beauty treatments – hair salons, barbers, nail salons, massage centres, tattoo and piercing parlours
  • visitor attractions and entertainment venues – museums, galleries, cinemas, theatres, concert halls, cultural and heritage sites, aquariums, indoor zoos and visitor farms, bingo halls, amusement arcades, adventure activity centres, indoor sports stadiums, funfairs, theme parks, casinos, skating rinks, bowling alleys, indoor play areas including soft-play areas
  • communal areas in schools for teachers and pupils
  • funeral service providers – funeral homes, crematoria and burial ground chapels
  • community centres, youth centres and social clubs
  • exhibition halls and conference centres
  • libraries and public reading rooms
  • public areas in hotels and hostels
  • storage and distribution facilities
  • veterinary services
  • estate and letting agents
  • places of worship
  • auction houses

Of course, we are now in another UK-wide lockdown, so many of these places are closed anyway.

The list above is from the Government website and for England, but they largely apply elsewhere too.

However, do keep in mind that there are differences in examples used by different Governments. For instance, Scotland references gyms and indoor leisure centres, while England doesn’t. In addition, some of the places listed above aren’t explicitly mentioned elsewhere.

There are also a few specific points listed on each website that are worth mentioning.

In England, you need to wear a face covering in NHS settings, including hospitals and primary or community care settings, such as GP surgeries. This isn’t explicitly explained on the other Government websites, but may apply.

Northern Ireland states that a face mask isn’t mandatory in a business where you can maintain social distancing, for example, because there are appointments and time slots. Staff who are separated from members of the public by a partition or screen, such as in a bank, don’t have to wear a mask.

On the Scottish website, it also says that people working in indoor premises who are physically separated by a screen or can maintain two metres distance from the public don’t have to wear a face mask. It also specifies that ferry services and communal areas in workplaces are included in the list of indoor places you must wear a mask. It

Please do, therefore, check the Government website for where you live:

If you’re unsure whether a rule applies or not, we’d recommend wearing a face covering anyway if you are able to.

If you’re caught without a face mask, you’ll be denied access to the premises and fined £200 – up from £100. This can be reduced to £100 if it is paid within 14 days.

If you are a repeat offender, the fines will double each time – for example, £400 on the second occurrence and £800 on the third – and there won’t be a discount. Fines can be issued up to a maximum of £6,400.

As an employee in other work contexts, it’s up to individual businesses to assess whether PPE is necessary for any particular context, not listed above, so check the rules for your particular work setting with your employer.

This information is correct as of 14th January 2021.

If you’re concerned about wearing a face mask and don’t think you’re exempt, try these face mask bracket inserts (pictured below) to help make breathing in a mask easier. 

Breathing face mask bracket insert

Face mask exemptions

In England and Wales, these rules don’t apply to children under the age of 11 – under 5 in Scotland and 13 in Northern Ireland – and across the UK some disabled people or those with health conditions where there is a legitimate or reasonable reason not to, as listed under Government guidelines. This includes:

  • if you cannot 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 speaking to or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip-reading, clear sound or facial expressions to communicate (take a look at our lip-reading exemption card).

To put this into context, exemptions can apply if you have a disability or condition that would make it very difficult to wear a face covering.

For example, if you have respiratory condition, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema or bronchitis, you may find it too difficult to breathe through a face covering.

If you have a learning difficulty, sensory processing disorder or neurodivergent condition, wearing a mask could be too overwhelming.

If you have communication difficulties, speech impairment or find it hard to express yourself with a mask on, especially if you are non-verbal, a mask would be difficult.

This could also be the case if you have a mental health condition or invisible disability, such as dementia, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe anxiety or have experienced violence or abuse.

This is list is not exhaustive and there will be many other disabilities that would make wearing a mask very difficult.

If you need to lip-read, you might want to try a lip-reading face mask for you and your companion, and our ‘I need to lip-read card’ card. 

Black lip-reading face mask with clear plastic centre

Other exemptions apply to some employees in indoor settings, such as transport workers, police and emergency workers, and some specific situations, such as if you’re exercising and wearing one would impact your ability to participate.

You can also remove your mask for a short time in certain circumstances, such as:

  • if you need to avoid a threat, harm or injury
  • if you are asked to do so for identification, for example in a bank or pharmacy
  • to receive treatment or services, such as when getting a medical procedure
  • because you need to eat, say because you’re diabetic
  • to take medication.

Visit the Government website for the full list of reasons. These exemptions are similar in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, although please do check for details where you live.

Face mask exemption card

Face mask exemption cardIf you have a disability or condition that falls into one of the categories listed above, you can self-certify as being exempt – you don’t have to provide proof.

To help ensure you feel more comfortable, we’ve created an exemption card for those who have a genuine reason to not wear a mask.

Our mask exemption card comes on a lanyard or badge clip. It is a durable, portable pass that you can wear around your neck or pinned to your coat or top while travelling or shopping.

It provides staff and others around you with immediate and simple-to-understand information regarding your mask exemption.

The bright red lanyard has ‘MASK EXEMPT’ written in white capital letters so it is easy to see. The credit card-sized ID badge further explains your mask exemption as being due to a “disability/health condition”. Both can be seen and read at a safe distance.

There isn’t a legal requirement to wear a lanyard or display any form of exemption, but our card will give you an easy and quick way to convey your medical exemption.

There is also the option to purchase the ID card with a badge clip instead of a lanyard, which can be worn on shirts, tops or coats.

The pocked-sized design of the ID, badge clip and lanyard means it can be stored in your coat or bag making it easy to access and put around your neck or pin to you.

The badge costs just £2.95, the lanyard £3.95 and for it is £4.95 for both.

Head to the Disability Horizons Shop now to buy your face mask exemption card on a lanyard or as a badge to make sure you’re covered when you travel and shop.

Please note, these cards are ONLY designed for people with a genuine reason for not wearing a mask. If you do not have a legitimate reason listed under Government guidelines, you’re open to being fined.

We have also created an ‘I need to lip-read card’ for anyone who needs to lip-read and therefore can’t hear someone talk if they have their mask on.

By Disability Horizons

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