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Face coverings: how the regulations apply to you

Page last reviewed: 25 March 2022

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

There’s no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most public spaces in England. The Government suggests you continue to wear a face covering in the following situations:

  • when you are coming into close contact with someone at higher risk of becoming seriously unwell from COVID-19 or other respiratory infections
  • when COVID-19 rates are high and you will be in close contact with other people, such as in crowded and enclosed spaces
  • when there are a lot of respiratory viruses circulating, such as in winter, and you will be in close contact with other people in crowded and enclosed spaces
  • If you have symptoms or have a positive COVID-19 test result and you need to leave your home

Face coverings should continue to be worn by patients and visitors across all healthcare settings, providing it’s 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, there’s no longer a legal requirement to wear a face covering in most public spaces.

You are still required to wear a face covering in health and social care settings and are advised to wear one in indoor public paces and on public transport.

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

Wales

In Wales, there is no longer a legal requirement for you to wear a face covering in most indoor public spaces, or on public transport.

It’s strongly advised that you wear a face covering indoors, especially in the following premises, unless actively eating, drinking or dancing:

  • in hospitality settings such as pubs or nightclubs 
  • at a wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremony or reception

You must also still wear a face covering in health and social care settings.

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

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, face coverings are no longer mandatory, but the use of face coverings is strongly recommended in all indoor settings accessible to the public.

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’re in a place where your hearing aid or cochlear implant processor could be easily found if it falls out.
  • If you’re 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

Government guidance states that you do not need to wear a face covering if you’re 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.

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.

Even as rules are relaxed, face coverings may still be recommended, or people may simply choose to continue wearing them. Because of this, it’s important that the public are aware of the reasons that someone may be unable to wear a face covering, or need others who are wearing one to make adjustments to help them communicate.

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

Exemptions in health and social care settings

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’s up to the discretion of the individual wearing PPE, based on a risk assessment, whether they remove their PPE to facilitate communication.

Exemption cards and digital badges

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’.

Download an exemption badge for your phone

Download an exemption card to print

Exemption cards in Scotland

The Scottish government has produced physical and digital exemption cards. Download a face covering exemption card for Scotland or request a printed card.

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.

Because of this, we encourage everyone to use clear face coverings, particular people working in shops and transport, and to make use of the exemption which allows them to lower their face covering at a safe distance. We’re also calling on the government to reassure businesses and the public about the safety of wearing clear face masks, to encourage greater deaf awareness.

Unfortunately, until the government provides clarity on the safety of face coverings with clear panels, we can’t recommend where to buy them. We’ll continue to update this page if we find out more.

Clear face masks in health and social care

In health and social care settings, face masks must meet certain specifications and so not all clear face coverings will be appropriate.

With a number of designers and manufacturers around the world developing transparent masks that enable lip reading, we called on the Government to assess the safety and viability of these products for use in health and social care services in the UK. We are pleased that there are now two products, produced by Alpha-Solway and Contechs, which meet the specification.

The Department of Health and Social Care is beginning to widely pilot these transparent face masks across a variety of settings in the UK, to provide further evidence on where they’re suitable and how easy they’re to use.

Regardless of whether clear masks are in use, some simple communication tips can also be helpful.

Read our communication tips for health and social care professionals

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