Coronavirus – Do I have to wear a face covering?


During the current Coronavirus outbreak, it is now law in England for face coverings to be worn in most public places to minimise the risk of transmission. This blog from our advice and information team explains these rules and what options you have if you experience mental illness.

Why have the government introduced face coverings?

The government have introduced face coverings to help to reduce the spread of coronavirus.  Their scientific advisers have advised the government that this is a helpful measure to try to keep people safe.

 Do I have to wear a face covering?

 In England, you must by law wear a face covering in certain places such as shops, public transport and NHS settings.  You visit the gov.uk site for the full list of where you must wear a face covering and more information on them.

A face covering is a covering of any type which covers your nose and mouth.

The government say you should also wear a face covering in other enclosed spaces, where it is difficult to maintain social distancing.

If you want, you can wear a face covering at other times too if you feel safer or less anxious because you are wearing one.  Such as if you are walking in the street or in a park.

But you can be exempt from wearing a face covering if certain things apply to you. See below for more information.

When can I be exempt from wearing a face covering?

You should wear a face covering if you can in the settings that the government have identified.   

But you don’t need to wear a face covering if you have a good reason not to. This includes:

  • not being able to wear a face covering because of mental illness, or if it will cause you severe distress
  • to eat or drink, but only if you need to
  • to take medication

See here for more information, under the heading, ‘When you do not need to wear a face covering.’

Do I have to prove I’m exempt from wearing a face covering?

You might not be able to wear a face covering because of your mental illness.   The government say that you shouldn’t be asked to:

  • give evidence of this,
  • get a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering, or
  • carry an exemption card.

You might feel more comfortable showing something that says you don’t have to wear a face covering. This could be an exemption card, badge or even a home-made sign.

This is a personal choice and isn’t the law. You can download exemption card templates here

A lot of the big railway and bus companies also have travel support or assistance cards that you can print out and fill in. Regional transport bodies such Transport for Greater Manchester or Network West Midlands usually have them too.  You can contact your local transport body or company about this or look on their website.

You can find more information on travelling and face coverings here. 

Can shops and other services have a ‘blanket’ rule that someone must wear a face covering?

A ‘blanket’ rule means a rule that applies to everyone, regardless of their circumstances. 

Shops and other services can’t insist you wear a face covering if you’re exempt by law.  See below for more information if you’re refused entry or service unless you wear a face covering.

What can I do if somewhere refuses me entry or service unless I wear a face covering?

If you’re exempt and you’re refused entry to somewhere or service, you can:

  • Explain to staff that you are exempt by law and tell them why, if you’re comfortable doing this. If you are exempt because of mental illness, you don’t have to say your diagnosis or the nature of your condition. It’s your choice.  You could just say your exempt because of mental illness or even say because of disability.
  • If you have a card or anything in writing to say you’re exempt, you can show staff. But you don’t have to do this by law.  If you have nothing in writing, you can tell staff that legally don’t have to prove that you’re exempt.
  • You might have a smart phone with you. You can show the member of staff the government information about when people are exempt. You can find the information here under the heading, ‘When you do not need to wear a face covering.’  Or you could print out the information and carry it with you.
  • If the member of staff still refuses you entry or service, you can ask to speak to the manager and go through the steps above.
  • If none of the above works you can complain. You can do this verbally, or in writing.  Make sure you use the word ‘complaint’.  You can ask for the organisation’s complaints policy or it might be on their website.

You might be exempt from wearing a mask because of a disability.  If you are and you’re refused entry to somewhere or service, you might be unlawfully discriminated against.  There is a law called the Equality Act that protects disabled people from discrimination.   See below for more information.

What is the Equality Act and how does it protect me?

You might have a disability and be exempt from wearing a face covering, because of one of the reasons that are legally allowed.

If you’re refused entry or service unless you wear a face covering, the service could be in breach of the Equality Act.

Mental illness can qualify as a disability under the Act, as well as physical illnesses and conditions too.

Please see our information on Discrimination and mental health   It gives you more information on:

  • what counts as a disability under the Act, and
  • what you can do if you’ve been discriminated against.

For more information about mental illness and Covid-19, please visit our dedicated hub, or practical advice and information about Covid-19 and mental health, contact our advice and information team.

We care about your privacy
This website uses cookies to give you the best experience.
Read our updated privacy policy and cookies policy