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Face coverings: how the regulations apply to you

Page last reviewed: 29 November 2021

Find out what the face covering regulations mean for you and what we’re calling on the government to do.

On this page you can find out:

  • who does not have to wear a face covering and when people are allowed to lower their face covering
  • how to wear a face covering with a hearing aid or cochlear implant
  • our position on clear face coverings
  • what we’re calling for government, employers and service providers to do as restrictions are lifted.

Since summer 2020, regulations on wearing face coverings have been in place to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

Many of the UK’s 12 million people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely on facial expressions and lipreading to communicate.

We’ve been working with the UK governments to make sure regulations consider the needs of people who rely on visual cues to communicate.

It’s vital that people who are deaf or have hearing loss can continue to communicate in public spaces, while also protecting themselves and others.

The difference between a ‘face covering’ and a ‘face mask’

  • A ‘face covering’ is anything that safely covers the nose and mouth. These are mandatory (required by law) for the general public in certain situations.
  • ‘Face masks’ are considered personal protective equipment (PPE) and must be worn in health and social care settings. This means they must meet higher health standards.

Where face coverings are required by law

England

The UK Government has recently announced that face coverings will again be mandatory in retail settings and across the public transports network, with exemptions in place for those with a medical or disability reason not to wear one.

Face coverings should be worn by patients and visitors across all healthcare settings, providing it is tolerated and is not detrimental to their medical or care needs. They should also be worn in care homes to protect residents. 

See the government advice on face coverings in England on GOV.UK.

Scotland

In Scotland, most people are required by law to wear a face covering in many indoor settings, as well as on public transport and in taxis.

These rules also apply to staff, unless:

  • they can maintain a 1-metre distance from others, or
  • they are physically separated – for example, by clear partitions.

Read the full government guidance on face coverings for Scotland on the Scottish government website.

Wales

In Wales, most people are required by law to wear a face covering on public transport and in taxis, and in all indoor public places except hospitality premises and in wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremonies.

Read the full government guidance on face coverings for Wales on the Welsh government website.

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, most people are required by law to wear a face covering on public transport and in indoor settings accessible to the public.

This also applies to staff, unless they are behind a protective screen. 

Face coverings are not compulsory in places of worship, during acts of worship. However, they are still legally required when entering and exiting the building and will be strongly advised whilst singing or moving around the premises.

Read the full government guidance on face coverings for Northern Ireland on the nidirect website.

Wearing a face covering with hearing aids or a cochlear implant

The government describes a face covering as something that safely covers the nose and mouth. You can buy reusable or single-use face coverings, which usually have elastic straps that fit behind the ears.

Where face coverings are mandatory, you may also use a scarf, bandana, religious garment or hand-made cloth covering, but these must securely fit round the side of your face.

How to wear a face covering if you use hearing aids or a cochlear implant

  • Face coverings that tie around your head and do not touch your ears will help keep your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor secure.
  • If you have a face covering that has elastic straps, try a mask extender, which you use to link the straps at the back of your head. You can buy these, make your own, or try something similar by adding an extra piece of material to tie the straps together at the back of your head.
  • Try to only remove your face covering when you are in a place where your hearing aid or cochlear implant processor could be easily found if it falls out.
  • If you are concerned about losing your hearing aid or cochlear implant processor, consider using safety line or retention cords. You can buy a safety line or retention cords from the Connevans online shop.

Face covering exemptions and exemption cards

Once face coverings were made mandatory, government guidance recognised that some people have a legitimate reason not to wear one – for example, due to health, age or equality reasons.

Guidance states that you do not need to wear a face covering if you are unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.

This means you don’t have to wear a face covering if:

  • you cannot wear your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor securely with a face covering
  • wearing a face covering interferes with your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor.

You do not need to wear a face covering if you’re travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lipreading or facial expressions to communicate.

And anyone can temporarily lower their face covering while maintaining social distancing to communicate with someone who relies on lipreading or facial expressions.

For example, retail staff can lower their face covering to talk to a customer who is deaf or has hearing loss.

These exemptions also apply to staff who have to wear a covering at work by law.

Please be aware that face coverings are not regulated in the same way as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in healthcare settings. As a result, the exemption rule that says someone can temporarily lower their face covering to communicate, does not extend to PPE worn in healthcare settings, including vaccination centres.

This means that it is up to the discretion of the individual wearing PPE, based on a risk assessment, whether they remove their PPE to facilitate communication.

Read our communication tips for more advice on how to communicate effectively.

Exemption cards and digital badges

Where face coverings are still required, although you don’t need to prove that you don’t have to wear a face covering, some people may feel more comfortable showing something that communicates this.

We worked with the Westminster government to produce exemption cards and digital badges for your mobile that include information about deaf awareness. This includes a version that says ‘Please remove your face covering so I can understand you better’.

You can view and download exemption cards and badges from GOV.UK.

Exemption cards in Scotland

The Scottish government has produced physical and digital exemption cards. Request a face covering exemption card for Scotland.

If you use British Sign Language, you can request an exemption card for Scotland through contactSCOTLAND-BSL.

Clear face coverings for the general public

Many of our supporters would prefer people to wear face coverings with clear panels in public settings. This is because they allow deaf people and those with hearing loss or tinnitus to lipread.

We know they aren’t a perfect solution. Some face coverings with clear panels steam up, which prevents lipreading and seeing facial expressions. Others may reduce the sound level of some frequencies in speech. This can add an additional challenge for people with hearing loss.

But people who are deaf or have hearing loss have overwhelmingly said that these face coverings are more helpful than the standard coverings when communicating.

Unfortunately we can’t recommend where to buy clear face coverings as the government does not recommend their use by the wider public because their effectiveness is not supported by evidence. We have asked the government to provide clarity on whether there are any safety issues associated with wearing face coverings with clear panels and we will update this page if we find out more.

Read the government position on clear face coverings.

What we’re calling for

Since the legal requirements for face coverings were introduced, we have pushed Government, employers and service providers to ensure that any optional use of face coverings doesn’t discriminate against deaf or disabled people. We will continue to do this for as long as face coverings remain a feature of society.

We want venues to implement the exemptions policy consistently and fairly. We will also promote deaf awareness and communication tips across a society where face coverings are a regular barrier.  

Read our tips on how to communicate with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss