Until earlier this year there was guidance by the cabinet office instructing that mask mandates must not be applied to those who are according to the government's published definitions (effectively self-declared) exempt.

I don't know what the legal status of that guidance had been, but its purpose had seemed to be to provide an official interpretation/application of the equality act 2010, which remains now in full force despite the guidance having earlier this year been officially declared "withdrawn."

As of August 2022, some business establishments may provide a public service but of their own free volition require its recipients to wear face coverings as a condition of doing business. While the cabinet office guidance was officially withdrawn, court decisions set precedents which certainly agreed with its interpretations of the equality act 2010, which continues to remain fully in force.

What is the legal status now of offering a venue or service to the public while excluding those who purport to be unable to wear face coverings?

2 Answers 2


The Equality Act (2010) lists the following protected classes (emphasis mine):

age; disability; gender reassignment; marriage and civil partnership; pregnancy and maternity; race; religion or belief; sex; sexual orientation.

It is unlawful for businesses to discriminate against anyone, in the goods or services (or physical access) that they offer, based on any of those characteristics. Some disabilities may prevent people from wearing masks, and those people cannot be discriminated against.

I couldn't find a source in the law that says this explicitly, but according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission there is no legal requirement for people who have disabilities to be able to prove that they are disabled in order to receive accommodations for their disabilities. While you could, theoretically, ask people to prove that they have a disability if you don't believe them, you'd basically just be setting yourself up to have to pay a bunch of money in compensation when you eventually run in to somebody who actually does have such a disability, and doesn't have proof with them, who then takes you to court for discrimination and wins.


Such establishments can’t discriminate on the basis of disability

If a person says they are unable to wear a mask, they can’t be discriminated against. Disability is one of the protected features in the Equality Act 2010.

  • "If a person says they are unable to wear a mask" doesn't provide protection against discrimination. Only actually being disabled does that. Now, as the accepted answer notes, it is likely that you can't required people to prove they are disabled - but the only sort of disability I can image that would prevent wearing a mask is major breathing difficulties, and those are going to be obvious. Aug 16, 2022 at 11:50

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