13 January 2021
What was claimed
Police will now require written evidence of a medical exemption if people are to avoid a fine for not wearing a mask.
The rules have not changed, people with medical exemptions from wearing a mask are not legally required to carry an exemption card or badge. But the police union says officers may ask people for proof to enforce mask wearing laws.
“Explaining the new measures Ken Marsh told MailOnline: ‘If you have a medical reason for not wearing a mask, you now have to print off a clarification that proves you have an exemption.”
“What if someone says to you in a shop, if they’re maskless, ‘well I’m exempt but I’ve left my paperwork at home’?”
“Well we carry on the enforcement and it’s for them to prove. It’s very straightforward, you know we’ll say it’s absolutely fine, we’re going to carry on with the enforcement against you, him or she, but you have the power to prove that you are exempt, and then we won’t obviously proceed with it.”
We’ve seen a number of news outlets report comments made by the chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation, Ken Marsh, that anyone exempt from wearing a mask for medical reasons must have written clarification that that is the case.
He also made similar claims on LBC.
The gov.uk website says: “The police can take measures if members of the public do not comply with this [face covering] law without a valid exemption”.
But on the same page, it also says those with an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering do not “routinely need to show any written evidence of this”.
It also says: “This means that you do not need to seek advice or request a letter from a medical professional about your reason for not wearing a face covering.”
It adds that “Carrying an exemption card or badge is a personal choice and is not required by law.”
We asked the Home Office whether the rules had changed since that page was last updated, which at the time of writing was on 4 December. It told us to ask the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC).
The DHSC told us that to its knowledge the rules had not changed, and that what the government website said on mask exemptions still applied.
We asked the Police Federation what guidance or laws Mr Marsh was referring to when he made his claims.
It responded by saying that the government was asking police officers to enforce its “ever changing laws” when necessary to drive down case numbers.
It said: “The police can take measures if members of the public do not comply with this law without a valid exemption. From policing’s perspective – as we have stated – the onus should be on those who are not wearing a mask to prove that they are exempt from doing so, which would make the incredibly difficult job of police officers much easier at this time.”
So although there is no legal requirement for people to carry a badge or exemption card if they have a medical exemption from wearing a mask, it does also seem that the police may ask to see some proof of exemption, and may ask someone to leave the relevant place and/or issue a fixed penalty notice if this isn’t provided.
The law in England regarding face coverings in the context of Covid-19 does not mention any types of evidence which may prove people are exempt.
We asked the Police Federation what form this proof should take, for example a government exemption badge, or a note from a doctor, and whether someone could show proof later and have the fine rescinded. It was not able to tell us.
There are printable cards and badges on the gov.uk website for those who have an age, health or disability reason for not wearing a face covering.
The police and Transport for London officers can fine people £200 (or £100 if paid within 14 days) for their first offence of not wearing a face covering when they should.
Can you chip in to help us do more?
You’ve probably seen a surge in misleading and unsubstantiated medical advice since the Covid-19 outbreak. If followed, it can put lives at serious risk. We need your help to protect us all from false and harmful information.
We’ve seen people claiming to be health professionals, family members, and even the government – offering dangerous tips like drinking warm water or gargling to prevent infection. Neither of these will work.
The longer claims like these go unchecked, the more they are repeated and believed. It can put people’s health at serious risk, when our services are already under pressure.
Today, you have the opportunity to help save lives. Good information about Covid-19 could be the difference between someone taking the right precautions to protect themselves and their families, or not. Could you help protect us all from false and harmful information today?
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