Coronavirus / When do I have to wear a face mask?

When do I have to wear a face mask?

When do I have to wear a face mask under the new regulations? Are the new rules discriminatory? Can I be denied entry to a venue if I’m not wearing a mask? Our coronavirus advice and information hub has you covered.

This information was correct as of 10 December 2021 but is subject to possible changes.

This page sets out the law and guidance which applies in England only.

What are the rules about face masks in England?

The rules about when you need to wear a face mask in England are found in The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Wearing of Face Coverings) (England) Regulations 2021. These came in to force on 30 November 2021.

Originally the Government stated that they would expire on 20 December 2021. However, this has now been extended to 26 January 2022. The Government is able to extend this date further.

What is a face mask?

In the context of the current Covid-19 pandemic, a face mask is a covering used to protect you from the spread of the virus. Therefore, a face mask is anything which covers your nose and mouth. There are many types of face masks, including cloth face coverings, respirators and disposable surgical masks.

Where do I have to wear a face mask?

As of 30 November 2021, face masks must be worn in certain settings in England. On 10 December, a substantial number of additional settings were added. Some people may be exempt from wearing a face mask. See below for more information on who is exempt. There are also reasonable excuses for not wearing a face mask. See below for more information on reasonable excuses.

We have produced a paraphrased version of the list below. Click here to see the full version of this list in the original legislation.

  1. shops*
  2. enclosed shopping centres
  3. banks, building societies and other financial businesses which transmit money using cash or cheques
  4. post offices
  5. places of worship (unless you are attending for an exempt gathering)
  6. crematoria and burial ground chapels
  7. community centres, youth centres, members’ clubs and social clubs (unless you are attending for an exempt gathering)
  8. public areas in hotels and hostels
  9. concert halls, exhibition halls, conference centres and other public halls (unless you are attending for an exempt gathering)
  10. cinemas
  11. museums, galleries, aquariums, zoos and visitor farms, and other tourist, heritage or cultural sites
  12. bingo halls
  13. public libraries and reading rooms (unless you are attending for an exempt gathering)
  14. casinos
  15. theatres (unless you are attending for an exempt gathering)
  16. polling stations
  17. vote counting premises
  18. play and soft play areas and soft play centres
  19. snooker and pool halls
  20. amusement arcades and adult gaming centres
  21. games and recreation venues
  22. skating rinks
  23. circuses
  24. theme parks, fairgrounds, funfairs, and adventure parks
  25. sports stadia
  26. enclosed vehicles during driving lessons or tests
  27. motorway service areas
  28. sexual entertainment venues.

*(This is a broad term, but previous government guidance stated that this extends pretty far, including supermarkets, high-street solicitors, hair salons, takeaways without eating areas, vets and more).

What’s an exempt gathering?

In some places in the list above you don’t have to wear a mask if you’re attending for an ‘exempt gathering’. This does require either the entire venue to be used for the exempt gathering, or for the section which is being used to be separate and enclosed from the rest of the venue. You will therefore still need to wear a mask in the rest of the venue.

There is a specific list of these exempt gatherings in the regulations. We have produced a paraphrased version of the list below. Click here to see the full version of this list in the original legislation.

You may not have to wear a mask if you’re attending a community space for:

  1. school education activities
  2. life skills training provided by a 16 – 19 academy or provider of further education
  3. activities relating to residing at a school, etc.
  4. a provision specified in an education, health and care plan.
  5. a skills programme consisting of work experience placement or work preparation training
  6. applying for work
  7. meeting a requirement for a particular area of work (not driving tests, etc.)
  8. professional training working towards an accreditation (not driving lessons, etc.)
  9. exams and assessments connected to any of the above
  10. a parent and child group which is organised by a business, a charitable, benevolent or philanthropic institution or a public body for the benefit of children under the age of five
  11. childcare provided by a registered person
  12. organised and supervised activities taking place for the purpose of teaching, training, instructing, or otherwise caring for or improving the wellbeing of a child, or a person who was under the age of 18 on 31st august 2021.

Where don’t I have to wear a face mask?

There are some premises in which you won’t commit a criminal offence if you don’t wear a mask. We have produced a paraphrased version of the list below. Click here to see the full version of this list in the original legislation.

  1. restaurants
  2. cafes and canteens
  3. bars
  4. pubs
  5. shisha bars
  6. any other premises, or part of premises, which are being used wholly or mainly by people eating or drinking (but only in the area in which people are eating or drinking, you may need to wear a mask elsewhere)
  7. fitness studios and gyms
  8. dance studios
  9. leisure centres
  10. swimming pools or water parks
  11. any other premises, or part of premises, which are being used wholly or mainly by people taking exercise or dancing (but only in the area in which people are exercising or dancing, you may need to wear a mask elsewhere)
  12. medical premises
  13. photography studios
  14. nightclubs
  15. dancehalls
  16. any other venue which opens at night, has a dancefloor for the public (including club members) and provides music.

These lists are a little confusing, as there are various premises which are neither on the list of places where you do have to wear a mask nor the list of places where you don’t. It seems that if premises aren’t included in either list, it will be presumed that you don’t have to wear a mask there.

Be aware that businesses can have their own policies about mask wearing and can deny you entry based on those. These policies can require people to wear masks where the regulations don’t require it, but can’t allow people to go without masks where the regulations require it.

Do I have to wear a mask in medical premises?

The new regulations don’t make it an offence to not wear a face mask in a medical setting. However, NHS guidance has always said that visitors should wear face masks in healthcare settings. They are also allowed to make this a policy for entry. The exception in this guidance is when wearing a face mask is detrimental to your medical or care needs.

Are the face mask rules discriminatory?

In England and Wales, the protection against discrimination is found in the Equality Act 2010. The face mask regulations and the policies of any private businesses must not breach this Act.

The face masks regulations will disadvantage some people more than others; for example by denying them entry to a certain premises because they can’t wear a mask or restricting their breathing if they’re required to. This could, in some cases, be discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. However, for this to be the case, the disadvantage must be connected to a protected characteristic.

There are nine protected characteristics: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation. Note that ‘disability’ and ‘religion or belief’ have specific legal definitions here.

This means that some cases of disadvantage will be discriminatory, but not all. If a situation is discriminatory, then a court can require the Government to change the regulations or award financial compensation from a business. However, it is worth noting that indirect discrimination can be defended in some circumstances. In addition, the regulations do allow for exceptions for disabled people. We will shortly be uploading a specific article on disability discrimination to provide further information.

If you think that you may have been discriminated against you should contact a solicitor to discuss the details of your case. You can find information on our I Need a Lawyer page here. The Equality Advisory and Support Service may also be able to help.

Can someone make me wear a face mask?

Under the new regulations, as of 30 November 2021, it is a criminal offence to not wear a mask in a location in which you are required to. Police officers, PCSOs, and public transport employees can direct you to wear a mask in shops, on public transport and other indoor settings. They can also deny you access to any of these if you are not wearing one.

If you ignore a police officer’s instructions to obey this law, this is also an offence. An officer can physically remove you from a location using reasonable force. They are also allowed to arrest you for committing an offence. However, arrest and force should only be used as a last resort.

The police’s own guidance states that officers should use the four ‘E’s approach: they should Engage with you to check whether you will comply, Explain the requirements, Encourage you to wear a mask and only then consider Enforcing the regulations by removing you from a venue or giving a fixed penalty notice (FPN). We have information about FPNs in our Coronavirus: Criminal Penalties article here.

If a police officer jumps too quickly to fines or removal, you may wish to bring a complaint against them. If you are injured during such a removal, you may wish to contact a public law solicitor. If you are given a fine which seems inconsistent with these policies or the regulations, you may wish to contact a criminal defence solicitor (as soon as possible, because there is a time limit on paying FPNs, explained in our Coronavirus: Criminal Penalties article here).

No one can make you wear a mask if you have a reasonable excuse. We have more information on what this means below.

If a business has their own policies requiring you to wear a mask then they can deny you entry if you are not wearing one. They can forcibly remove you from the premises, but they can’t fine you. They must also take care to comply with the Equality Act 2010 as explained above.

Transport for London (TfL)

You are required to wear a face mask on all public transport. However, only Transport for London have their own enforcement officers who have been given specific powers to also give FPNs.

Do business owners have to make people wear masks?

The new regulations do create two new offences for the businesses in which face masks are required.

A shop, post office, bank, public transport service or other place where masks are required, has to display signs. These signs must state the requirement to wear a face mask unless you are exempt or have a reasonable excuse for not doing so. These signs must be displayed in a conspicuous place. If the responsible person does not wish to display a sign, they must take other measures to ensure that everyone who enters is given this information.

If a business is found to breach this rule, then it can be fined. In addition, a person who had responsibility for the business at the time (for example, a director or a manager) can also be fined if they gave consent to the action, or if they were negligent about stopping it.

A person responsible for a business also commits an offence if they try to prevent someone from wearing a mask. This is an offence even if the person is not required, under these regulations, to wear a mask in that premises. This means that a shop owner cannot try to prevent someone from wearing a mask, but neither can a pub landlord.

The main exception is when asking someone to remove their mask to verify their identity (e.g. to check their age). Pharmacists can also ask someone to remove their mask to provide healthcare.

What happens if I refuse to wear a face mask?

As of 30 November, refusing to wear a mask in a relevant place without a reasonable excuse is a criminal offence. As described above, you can be asked to wear a mask, asked to leave the premises or actively removed from the premises.

You can also be given an FPN or criminally charged. The FPN amounts are given below. If you are given an FPN, and pay it within 28 days, you won’t be prosecuted for a criminal offence. If you don’t pay the FPN within 28 days, you might be prosecuted and have to go to court.

You can find more information about what to do if you receive an FPN in our Coronavirus: Criminal Penalties article here.

How much are the fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for not wearing a mask?

Who is exempt from wearing face masks?

  • children aged 10 or younger.
  • the owner/manager of the premises (while they are working in an area which is not open to the public).
  • an employee of the premises or public transport service (while they are working in an area which is not open to the public).
  • anyone providing professional services at the premises or the public transport service (while they are working in an area which is not open to the public); e.g. a plumber.
  • people who enter a transport hub in their own vehicle and do not leave the vehicle.
  • emergency responders (while they are working).
  • police officers or PCSOs (while they are working).
  • certain other relevant officials while they are working (ship surveyors, HSE workers, local authority officers, pilots, civil aviation inspectors, boarder officers)
  • people who are outdoors on a public transport vehicle
  • people who are within their cabin, berth or other similar accommodation on public transport
  • people who are in a part of a public transport vehicle which is used wholly or mainly for eating and drinking or dancing
  • people who remain inside a private vehicle which is onboard a public transport vehicle (for example, people inside their cars on a ferry).
  • professional performers performing in public transport
  • elite sportspeople (while they’re training or in a competition)
  • the coach of an elite sportsperson (while they’re training or in a competition)
  • referees (while refereeing a competition)
  • professional dancers (while they’re training or in a competition)
  • professional choreographers (while they’re working)
  • pupils aged 18 or below while training in a place of worship
  • performers (while they’re performing as part of their employment)
  • a couple at a wedding ceremony, civil partnership, or any ceremony to mark the union of two people.

What is a reasonable excuse for not wearing a face mask?

The face mask regulations provide a list of reasonable excuses for not wearing a mask. This list is non-exhaustive, which means that other excuses may also be considered reasonable if they are not in the list but are similar to the excuses which are. In addition, as explained above, places enforcing the face mask rules must not discriminate under the Equality Act 2010.

Companies may also have exemptions in their own policies.

Requiring someone to wear a mask when they are exempt might not be a case of discrimination. However, if an organisation is failing to respect the exemptions set out in law or their own policy, you may want to raise a complaint to them or to the relevant ombudsman.

If you believe that an organisation is unlawfully discriminating against you by requiring you to wear a mask, you should seek further legal advice. You can access our I Need a Lawyer page here for advice on finding lawyers or free legal advice. The Equality Advisory and Support Service may also be able to help.

The regulations give the following reasonable excuses for not wearing a mask:

  • you can’t put on, wear or remove a mask because of a physical or mental impairment or disability
  • you can’t put on, wear or remove a mask without severe distress
  • you need to communicate to someone who relies on lip reading
  • you need to remove your mask to avoid harm or injury to yourself or others
  • you need to remove your mask to receive medical treatment
  • you are entering the premises or public transport to avoid injury or harm and do not have a mask with you
  • you need to remove your mask to eat or drink
  • you need to remove your mask to take medication
  • an employee at the premises or public transport asks you to remove your mask to check your identity
  • in a pharmacy, an employee asks you to remove your mask to provide healthcare
  • a police officer, PCSO, TfL officer, local authority officer or public transport employee asks you to remove your mask
  • it’s reasonably necessary for you to sing, in a rehearsal or a performance.

Children aged 10 and younger are also not required to wear face masks.

How do I prove that I am exempt from wearing a face mask?

There are no specific requirements regarding how to prove your exemption or reasonable excuse.

For those who want to prove their age or employment status, they might have relevant identification.

For those who want to prove that they have a physical or medical impairment or disability, or that a mask would cause them severe distress, they can choose to carry an exemption card. There is no legal requirement to carry these. However, there are templates available in the government guidance for those who wish to use them.

Transport for London

To prove that you are exempt from wearing a face mask on TfL services, you can order a free badge to let their staff, enforcement officers and other passengers know that you are exempt. Again, this is not a legal requirement.

You can also download and print your own exemption card and carry it with you. You can show the card if you are asked why you are not wearing a face covering.

What are my rights on this?

Find out more about your rights and how the Human Rights Act protects them

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