POA Circulars

123 | 20.08.2020


The UK Government has recently mandated the use of face coverings in certain settings. However, in making this announcement, they also acknowledged that a small number of individuals may have legitimate reasons for not adhering to the requirement. Government therefore outlined circumstances where an individual may be exempt from wearing a face covering. Those citizens exempted from the requirements include (but are not limited to):

  • Young children under the age of 11 (Public Health England do not recommend face coverings for children under the age of 3 for health and safety reasons).
  • Those who are not able to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability.
  • Those for whom putting on, wearing, or removing a face covering would cause severe distress.
  • Those who are travelling with or providing assistance to someone who relies on lip reading to communicate.

The GOV.UK website contains templates for exemption cards and badges for people to demonstrate that they have legitimate exemption from wearing a face covering. However, use of these exemption cards is currently optional and those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering should not be routinely asked to give any written evidence of this, this includes exemption cards.

Though their use is not mandated, it is possible that visitors may present an exemption card or badge on arrival and claim exemption from the HMPPS requirement to wear a face covering in visits. In such situations, especially where there is a suspicion that the visitor is not being genuine, establishments may ask social visitors to explain their legitimate reason for not wearing a face covering (including being shown an exemption card). However, the visit must still be allowed to take place even where the visitor does not evidence their legitimate reason or provide an exemption card.

Staff booking social visits must remind all visitors of the requirement to wear a face covering during a social visit unless the visitor falls within the Government exemptions. However if a visitor states during the booking stage that they have an exemption from wearing a face covering, they must be informed that this will not prevent them from being able to access the visit and that other mitigations may be put in place during the visit to keep them safe.

In line with the social visits SOP, establishments in consultation with local POA Committees MUST refer to the hierarchy of controls in place for social visits and seek to apply other alternative measures to mitigate the risk of transmission introduced by an individual being exempt from wearing a mask. Any additional measures must be in place to enable the visit to start promptly and as such, establishments should give consideration to how they would mitigate the risk and build local procedures for this eventuality in advance of the scenario arising.

Thanking you in anticipation of your support.


Yours sincerely

General Secretary