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How can coronavirus-vulnerable households get food deliveries?

Get the latest advice on having groceries delivered if you or someone you know is vulnerable or shielding from coronavirus

How can coronavirus-vulnerable households get food deliveries?

With varying degrees of lockdown in place across the UK, Which? explains the latest measures and help available for coronavirus-vulnerable households.

While extremely clinically vulnerable groups haven’t been told to shield like they were earlier in 2020, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published updated guidance on keeping safe in light of the month-long lockdown in England – including the recommendation that those defined as being extremely clinically vulnerable should stay home as much as possible, except to exercise outdoors or attend health appointments.

In this article, we explain how to get help if you or someone you know is avoiding going to the shops and needs support in getting food delivered to their home.

You can scroll down to read the full article or click the links to jump to a particular section:

To find out what COVID-19 means for your rights, travel, health and lifestyle, check out the latest coronavirus news and advice from Which?.


The DHSC issued updated advice at the start of the latest national lockdown stating that clinically extremely vulnerable people, including those that were previously on the shielding list, should take extra precautions including staying at home as much as possible.

Those in England with health conditions on this list may have previously received a letter from the NHS advising them to shield, but it has also been updated to include additional groups including adults with Down’s syndrome.

NHS England has written to GPs asking them to familiarise themselves with the updated guidance, and to contact those that would now appear on the extremely clinically vulnerable list who didn’t before.

The government has committed to providing over £32 million to upper-tier councils in England to support the clinically extremely vulnerable over the next month.

It is asking everyone who is clinically extremely vulnerable to register at Gov.uk, even if you don’t need any support. If you do need support, this is also the site through which you can request it.

If you’re clinically extremely vulnerable and need urgent support, contact your local authority.

And if you’re self-isolating, you can get help through the NHS Volunteer Responders programme by calling 0808 196 3646 (8am-8pm).

For more information on accessing food and essential supplies during the pandemic, visit Gov.uk.

Accessing supermarket delivery slots in England

We contacted supermarkets to find out how vulnerable shoppers could access grocery deliveries during the second lockdown. Those that we heard back from confirmed that they still have the details of people who previously registered as needing support, which was shared by the government during the first national lockdown.

To be included on the database that is shared with supermarkets in England, you must register a need for support using the tool at Gov.uk.

If you want an online delivery slot, you must answer ‘no’ to the question asking if you have a way of getting essential supplies delivered at the moment.

You need to answer all questions on the form for your details to be shared with supermarkets.

We’ve got more advice on supermarket deliveries below.

Northern Ireland

We have contacted the Northern Ireland Department for Communities to ask for the current advice, and will update this story when we receive information.


Scotland has introduced a five-tier lockdown ranging from levels 0-4, with level 4 carrying the strictest measures. Currently, no local authority area is in the level 4 tier.

Those that were asked to shield earlier in 2020 are advised to follow the same measures as anyone else in their protection level. The Scottish government has also published advice for those at a higher risk from coronavirus, including shopping at quieter times if you are in a level 3 or level 4 area.

More advice can be found at Gov.scot.

Accessing supermarket delivery slots in Scotland

People in the shielded group should have been asked to give permission via the SMS service for their details to be shared with supermarkets.

Six supermarkets (Asda, Iceland, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) are offering priority supermarket deliveries for people in Scotland who are in the shielding group.

We’ve got more advice on supermarket deliveries below.


The firebreak lockdown in Wales has ended, and new country-wide regulations are in place.

The list of those that were advised to shield between March and August is being maintained, and the Welsh government has written to those on the list with up-to-date guidance.

The advice is to shop online, or to consider doing one big shop at quieter times of the day.

Accessing supermarket delivery slots in Wales

The Welsh government continues to share the details of those on the shielding list with supermarkets, so that they can contact them and offer deliveries. You do not need to register.

What is each supermarket doing to help?

Supermarkets continue to work hard to support customers, and the majority have continue with dedicated in-store shopping hours for vulnerable and elderly shoppers.

On 4 November, Which? asked the biggest UK supermarket chains about their plans for the second lockdown in England.

All of those that responded said they’d continue with the social distancing measures they already had in place, including floor markings, signage and perspex screens. They also encourage customers to follow government guidance on wearing face coverings and keeping at least two metres’ distance from others when in store.

Many continue to offer delivery slots to vulnerable people, and some have helplines for people that aren’t on the list but would like to request being added.

Dedicated hours for vulnerable shoppers in store

If you plan to use the shops, use the table below to find out when each supermarket is exclusively open for vulnerable shoppers and their carers.

Links take you to the Which? review of each supermarket.

Supermarket Key workers Elderly/vulnerable shoppers
Aldi NHS and emergency workers get priority in queues and also 30 minutes’ early access before tills open on Sundays Mon-Sat: access 30 minutes before store opens
Asda No priority hours No priority hours
Co-op Elderly, vulnerable and NHS Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am Elderly, vulnerable and NHS Mon-Sat 8am-9am; Sun 10am-11am
Iceland No priority hours No priority hours
Lidl No priority hours No priority hours
Marks & Spencer First hour of trading on Tue and Fri, but only if there’s a queue First hour of trading on Mon and Thu, but only if there’s a queue
Morrisons Mon-Sat 6am-7am; Sun 9am-9.30am
Sainsbury’s No specific hours but can go to front of queue at all times No specific hours but can go to front of queue at all times
Tesco NHS and emergency services staff allowed to go to front of queue at all times Wed and Sun (browsing only) 9am-10am
Waitrose NHS and social care workers have priority access at all times other than the first hour of opening on Mon, Wed, Fri (as this is reserved for elderly and vulnerable) First hour of opening on Mon, Wed and Fri; can also go to front of queue outside of those times

Correct as of 4 November 2020.

Community groups and charities offer help to vulnerable people

In many areas, mutual aid groups that were set up by local residents via Facebook during the first national lockdown have been resurrected, providing much-needed help to vulnerable local people or those having to isolate. Search for your local mutual aid group if you’d like to get involved or if you need help.

Residents within these groups may help people by picking up groceries or prescriptions, or offer a telephone call for those who are struggling with isolation.

If someone volunteers to do your shopping with you, make sure you pay them in a secure way – you can find out more in our advice story on ways to pay volunteer shoppers.

While social distancing measures are important to delay the spread of the virus, they will leave many people feeling lonely. We’ve rounded up loneliness prevention tips for older people during lockdown, including key numbers to call if you need support.

It’s not just neighbours who are offering support, either, with local shops and restaurants offering a lifeline for some by supplying boxes of essentials or delivering hot meals that can be ordered over the phone.

We’ve heard about Royal Mail delivery people putting notes through letterboxes offering help, and neighbours sharing online supermarket orders to ensure that everybody in the street gets the supplies they need.

How do I pay for my shopping if I can’t go out?

Many shielding and vulnerable people are turning to volunteer groups to help them with accessing essentials, but earlier in the year this led to concern over how to pay without handing over cash or card details.

The supermarkets introduced shopping cards, which are designed to be topped up like gift vouchers. These offer a safer payment method to support those that are relying on volunteers.

Click the links in the list below to be taken to the web page to purchase a card for your chosen supermarket, or check out our story on the safest ways to pay volunteers for shopping for the pros and cons of other methods.

  • Aldi – volunteer gift cards for set amounts
  • Asda – volunteer gift card re-loadable online
  • Co-op – volunteer shopping card bought over phone (08000 294 592)
  • Marks & Spencer – volunteer gift cards for set amounts
  • Morrisons – regular gift cards, with the option of ordering a physical gift card to be sent to the volunteer’s address
  • Sainsbury’s – volunteer gift cards for set amounts
  • Tesco – volunteer gift cards for set amounts
  • Waitrose – volunteer gift cards which can be sent now or on a future date; order via the John Lewis & Partners website

This story was originally published on 7 April and has been regularly updated to reflect the current situation. Additional reporting by Ellie Simmonds.

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