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Face coverings: how the regulations apply to you

Page last updated: 11 August 2020

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

This information is for you if:

  • you are deaf or have hearing loss
  • you are the partner, relative, friend or carer of someone who is deaf or has hearing loss
  • you want to support people who are deaf or have hearing loss to communicate.

New regulations on wearing face coverings have been introduced in the UK to reduce the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus).

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

We’ve been working with the UK governments to make sure the new 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.

Where face coverings are required by law

England

In England, most people are required by law to wear a face covering in a wide range of places, including:

  • when using public transport
  • in enclosed transport hubs such as stations and airports
  • in shops, indoor shopping centres and supermarkets
  • in banks and post offices
  • when buying takeaway food and drink (though they can be removed in a seating area)
  • in places of worship
  • in community centres and social clubs
  • in libraries.

You are also strongly advised to wear a face covering in other enclosed spaces where social distancing may be difficult and where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet.

To see the full list of places where face coverings are required in England, visit the GOV.UK website.

Scotland

In Scotland, most people are now required by law to wear a face covering:

  • in shops and supermarkets
  • on public transport
  • in railway and bus stations and airports.

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

Wales

In Wales, most people are now required by law to wear a three-layer face covering:

  • on public transport
  • when using taxis
  • in other situations where it might be difficult to stay 2m away from others.

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:

  • in shops or shopping centres
  • on bus, coach and train services
  • in public transport stations
  • in indoor areas of a ferry and outdoor areas where you can’t keep more than 2m social distance.

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.

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.

Tips for wearing 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 mask that has elastic straps, try a mask extender, which you use to link the mask straps at the back of your head, rather than having the straps sit behind your ears. 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, you can buy safety lines and retention cord from the Connevans and Action on Hearing Loss online shop.

Face covering exemptions

If you are unable to wear your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor securely with a face covering

Government guidance says you do not need to wear a face covering if you have a legitimate reason not to – for example, due to, health, age or equality reasons.

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.

If you find you cannot wear your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor securely with a face covering, or if wearing a face covering interferes with your hearing aids or cochlear implant processor, this counts as a legitimate reason for not wearing one.

If you are communicating with someone who relies on facial expressions or lipreading

Thanks to our lobbying of UK governments, if you are travelling with, or providing assistance to, someone who relies on lipreading or facial expressions to communicate, you are not required by law to wear a face covering.

You will not be acting illegally or face a penalty if you remove your face covering to communicate with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss and needs to see your face to communicate with you. You may want to maintain social distance while doing so.

Read our communication tips for the general public to help you communicate more effectively with someone who is deaf or has hearing loss.

Exemption cards and badges

Some people may feel more comfortable showing something that says they don’t have to wear a face covering. For that reason, we have created an exemption card that you may wish to use, or give to the person with you.

Download an exemption card to print at home.

Download a digital exemption card to save to your mobile phone.

The government has also produced exemption badges and cards that you can print or save to your mobile phone. We worked with the government to make sure they include deaf awareness messaging. You can view and download these badges and cards from the GOV.UK website.

It’s a personal choice to carry an exemption badge or card. It’s not required by law.

Clear face coverings for the general public

Many of our supporters would prefer people to wear clear masks, or face coverings with clear panels, in public settings, as they allow for lipreading.

We know they aren’t a perfect solution. Some face coverings with clear panels steam up, which prevents lipreading and seeing facial expressions, 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 who are deaf or have hearing loss have overwhelmingly said that these face coverings are more helpful than the standard coverings when communicating.

These clear face coverings aren’t widely available to buy in the UK yet, so some people have chosen to make their own face coverings with clear panels.

We are calling on the government to provide clarity on whether there are any safety issues associated with wearing face coverings with clear panels and will update this page when we have news.

What we’re calling for

The government must now make sure 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 deaf people and those with hearing loss when communicating with people wearing face coverings, and provide tips to meet communication needs
  • raise awareness among the general public and transport operators of the new regulations around face coverings on public transport that now apply to England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and which will be in place in Wales from 27 July
  • provide clarity on and improve awareness of the face covering options that are safe and available to make and buy – including clear face coverings.