Face Coverings: Where Are They Not Compulsory?

From 24 July, you will be expected to wear a face covering before entering any shop or supermarket and must keep this on until you leave. If a shop or supermarket has a café or seating area for you to eat and drink, then you can remove your face covering in this area only. You must put a face covering back on once you leave your seating area.

However, there are some circumstances and venues where face coverings are not compulsory:

Wearing a face covering is not mandatory in venues such as:

  • hairdressers and close-contact services
  • eat-in restaurants, cafes and pubs. Face coverings will be required in cafes or take-away restaurants that do not provide table service, other than in designated seating areas
  • entertainment venues, including cinemas, concert halls and theatres
  • visitor attractions (such as heritage sites or museums)
  • gyms and leisure centres
  • dentists or opticians. But NHS guidance states that face coverings should be worn in hospitals

Those with the following circumstances are also exempt from wearing a face covering, regardless of the venue:

  • children under the age of 11
  • those with disabilities or the following health conditions:
    • breathing difficulties and other respiratory conditions
    • conditions affecting their dexterity, meaning they are not able to put on a face covering
    • mental health conditions such as anxiety or panic disorders
    • other non-visible disabilities such as autism
    • cognitive impairments, including dementia, who may not understand or remember the need to wear a face covering
    • visual impairments, with a restricted field of vision, particularly if any residual vision is at the lower edge of the normal field of view
    • impairments which would make it difficult to put on or take off a face covering safely, accurately, consistently or without pain

This list of exemptions is not exhaustive and extends to anyone with justifiable reason for not wearing one on the grounds of health or disability.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to. This includes (but is not limited to):

  • young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommended face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons)
  • 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 if reasonably necessary
  • in order to take medication
  • if a police officer or other official requests you remove your face covering

There are also scenarios when you are permitted 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 for identification, the purpose of assessing health recommendations, such as a pharmacist, or for identification purposes including when buying age-restricted products such as 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 with communication

It is not compulsory for shop or supermarket staff to wear face coverings although we strongly recommend that employers consider their use where appropriate and where other mitigations are not in place. Employees should continue to follow COVID-19 secure guidelines to reduce the proximity and duration of contact between employees. Businesses are already subject to legal obligations to protect their staff under existing employment law. This means taking appropriate steps to provide a safe working environment, which may include face coverings where appropriate, alongside other mitigation such as perspex screens to separate workers from customers.

On enforcement in transport hubs, transport and hub operators will be expected to remind passengers of the law and if necessary ask people to leave a transport hub if they are not wearing a face covering. It will be for the Police (and British Transport Police on the rail network) to enforce £100 fixed-term penalties, or remove people from services.  Transport for London (TfL) will have the same enforcement and prosecution powers in TfL transport hubs as they currently have in TfL carriages.