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Face coverings for the general public

The following information only applies to England and Scotland. In Wales and Northern Ireland, face coverings are currently not mandatory.

Since June, face coverings have become mandatory on public transport and hospitals in England and Scotland. Find out the latest guidance on face coverings, when you need to wear them and what we’re calling on the government to do.  

Wearing face coverings

The UK government and the World Health Organisation have advised wearing face coverings in a bid to reduce the transmission of coronavirus. Face coverings are now mandatory on public transport in both England and Scotland. Members of the public are strongly urged to wear face coverings when they attend hospital as outpatients or visitors. They are also advising people to wear a face covering in enclosed spaces such as shops where social distancing is not possible.

What this means for people who are deaf or have hearing loss

We know that these new policies will create new challenges for the twelve million people across the UK who have some form of hearing loss. Many people with hearing loss rely on lipreading to communicate and face coverings make this impossible. We called on the government to take action to address this barrier and we have been working closely with them to look at how best to do this. We want to ensure that people with hearing loss can communicate while also protecting themselves and others.

Read our communication tips to help the general public communicate more effectively with someone with hearing loss.

New guidance released

England

Thanks to our lobbying, new regulations and guidance issued by the Department of Transport mean you don’t have to wear a face covering on public transport in England if you need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading, or if you have another ‘reasonable excuse’. You won’t be acting illegally or face a penalty if you are communicating with someone with hearing loss and remove your face covering to do so.

Read the government guidance for England here.

Scotland

In Scotland, face coverings are mandatory on public transport and will become mandatory in shops from Friday 10th July. Following our calls to the Scottish government, new guidance has been released. This means in Scotland you do not need to wear a face covering if you need to communicate with someone who relies on lip reading.

Read the government guidance for Scotland here.

What Action on Hearing Loss are doing

The new guidance released is a significant and welcome change. But the government must now ensure that the public and others are aware of the new regulations. This is to prevent people with a reasonable reason for removing their covering from facing negative reactions, or even abuse, from the public.

We are calling on the government to:

  • Raise awareness of the challenges faced by people with hearing loss when communicating with those wearing face coverings and tips to meet communication needs.
  • Raise awareness amongst the general public and transport operators of the new guidance around mandatory face coverings in England on public transport.
  • Provide clarity on and improve awareness of the face covering options that are safe and available to make and purchase – including transparent coverings.

PPE (personal protective equipment)

The government established a task and finish group to look at issues with PPE and communication. We are expecting significant progress in this area to be announced soon. We will keep you updated on this.

Clear face coverings

Many of our supporters advocate clear masks, or face coverings with clear panels in public settings, as they allow for lip reading.

We know that they aren’t a perfect solution. Some such face coverings steam up which prevents lip reading and others may reduce the sound level of some frequencies in speech. This can add an additional challenge for people with hearing loss. But people with hearing loss have overwhelmingly reported that these face coverings are more helpful than the standard coverings when communicating.

We are aware of a limited supply of them, available for purchase in the UK. We are also aware that other such face coverings are in the process of being designed and tested. In the absence of widespread availability, some have chosen to use face shields or make their own face coverings with clear panels at home.

We are currently calling on the government to provide clarity on whether there are any safety issues associated with wearing face coverings with clear panels. It’s also unclear if purchasing and wearing face shields is in line with government recommendations for public usage and if this would undermine supply for health and social care settings.