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15 May 2020

How to pay volunteers helping with shopping during coronavirus lockdown

The safest and most secure ways to pay a shopping volunteer for your groceries

Millions of elderly and vulnerable people who are staying at home under lockdown guidelines now rely on volunteers to bring them groceries - but some have expressed concerns about the safest way to pay for their shopping.

For many people who are 'shielding' from coronavirus (which means only leaving their home for medical treatment), volunteer shoppers are essential.

Dozens of people have reached out to Which? asking how they should pay volunteers or neighbours who offer to shop for them.

Here, Which? explains the different ways you can pay volunteers and shares tips to help you stay safe from the scammers who are attempting to exploit vulnerable people during the pandemic.

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Only give money to people you trust

An alarming number of coronavirus scams have been reported to the police, and these include someparticularly nasty instances of scammers posing as shopping volunteers.

But if someone you don't know offers to shop for you, there's no need to be immediately suspicious. Millions of people across the country are giving up their time to shop for those who can't.

Read the tips in our article on spotting coronavirus scams for red flags to watch for and make sure you trust your volunteer before you give them any money.

Avoid giving the volunteer your own debit or credit card to use and never tell other people your Pin number.

It's also an idea to pay for the shopping once you have it, although this may not be possible if the volunteer's own finances are tight.

Paying with cash

Lockdown and shielding measures have made it difficult for many of the millions of people who rely on cash to withdraw any.

Even those who are able to leave their homes have faced challenges, with many bank branches having temporarily closed or changed their opening hours.

Some banks have adapted to help at-risk customers and NHS staff withdraw cash from home. And the Post Office has recently repurposed its travel money home delivery service to enable overnight cash deliveries of benefits payments from the Department for Work and Pensions.

If you're able to access cash and it's the easiest way for you to pay the person doing your shopping, make sure you hand it over in a contact-free way, such as by putting it in an envelope and leaving it somewhere for your volunteer to pick up.

It's also helpful to pay the exact amount if you can, so your volunteer doesn't need to hand you change.

Pros of paying with cash:

  • No need to exchange bank details

Cons of paying with cash:

  • Hard to access cash if you have to stay at home or local bank branches are closed
  • Paying exact amount or getting change could be difficult
  • Contact-free handovers could be tricky

Find out more:latest coronavirus supermarkets news

Bank transfer

Sending money via bank transfer is one of the payment methods that people worry about the most.

Primarily, they worry about having their details stolen and used for purchases they didn't authorise.

The risk of this happening when paying a volunteer is low, since they would need to send their bank details to you, not the other way around.

To pay someone for doing your shopping, you'll need their sort code and account number.

You can make payments via online or telephone banking if you have set these up with your bank.

If anyone asks you for your bank details, in particular your long card number and three-digit security code, say no as they could be a scammer.

Pros of paying via bank transfer:

  • Contact free
  • Can send precise amounts

Cons of paying via bank transfer:

  • You'll need to have set up telephone or internet banking
  • Online transfers require internet, which means people with no or slow internet connection may struggle

Volunteer shopping cards

Alongside the social distancing measures supermarkets have implemented, many have introduced 'volunteer shopping cards' designed specifically to help at-risk customers pay friends, family and neighbours who shop for them.

Tesco has now launched one of these cards, following Aldi, Asda, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's and Waitrose. Morrisons recommends buying its usual vouchers.

How do volunteer shopping cards work?

Most of these 'cards' are actually virtual vouchers, which work in the same way as other e-gift cards.

With the exception of the Co-op card, which you can order on the phone (08000 294 592), you buy volunteer shopping cards online and send the details to your volunteer's email address for them to use in store.

Your volunteer won't need to spend the full balance of the card each time they shop; the remaining amount will stay on the card, so you could load it with enough money for multiple trips if you wanted.

With Asda's volunteer card, you can also top it up on the internet, so you don't have to buy a new one each time. With others, you'll have to purchase a new e-voucher each time the balance gets used up.

If your volunteer would prefer to have a physical gift card, perhaps because they don't have access to the internet, you can order a regular gift card to be posted to them from Morrisons.

Pros of buying a volunteer shopping card:

  • No need to hand a volunteer e-gift card over in person (although you can print them if you want to)
  • You won't be handling cash
  • You don't need to share your bank or card details

Cons of buying a volunteer shopping card:

  • Most are only available online, except the Co-op's community shopping card
  • Only Asda's can be topped up remotely

Useful links to where you can buy supermarket volunteer cards or gift cards

  • 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

Post Office Payout Now

Payout Now is a new way to withdraw cash without leaving your home. Originally available only in Post Office branches, it's now being rolled out to banks, building societies and credit unions.

How does it work?

With Payout Now, you can ask your bank to send a one-time barcode via text, email or post to a trusted volunteer, who can then bring this barcode into a branch and use it to withdraw a specified amount of cash from your account.

You choose how much cash the barcode is worth and the volunteer will only be able to withdraw that amount.

Pros of Payout Now:

  • Contact free (for you)
  • No need to exchange bank details
  • Some banks will allow you to do this over the telephone if you don't have online banking

Cons of Payout Now:

  • Your bank might not be signed up - contact your bank to find out whether it's currently offering the service

Banks' volunteer cards

If you bank with NatWest, RBS, Ulster Bank or Starling Bank, you can order a second bank card to give to a trusted volunteer without having to give them your normal bank card details or your PIN.

How do they work?

Starling's card is called a 'connected card', and it is linked to a 'space' within your current account where you set money aside. Volunteers will only be able to spend whatever you put in that 'space'.

The NatWest, RBS and Ulster Bank cards are called 'carers cards', and they can be topped up with £100 every five days.

These are also linked to your current account but kept separate on the banks' systems.

While the Starling card is online-only, you can only order the NatWest, RBS and Ulster cards over the phone. This is so the bank can discuss whether this is the right option for you and tell you about their other offerings.

All of these cards are sent to your home first for security reasons, so you'll have to hand them over to your volunteer in a safe way.

Pros of banks' volunteer cards:

  • Order the card once and manage it forever
    No need to share bank details

Cons of banks' volunteer cards:

  • Cards will be sent to your home for you to give to your volunteer - make sure you observe social distancing when you do this
  • Starling's is online-only; others are telephone-only


If you have a cheque book, this could work as a way of paying volunteers.

It might be difficult for your volunteer to cash a cheque in person at the moment due to closed bank branches and the lockdown rules, but if their bank's app allows them to scan and pay in cheques remotely, this won't be a problem.

Barclays, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds and Starling all allow mobile cheque deposits.

Some banks also allow customers to deposit cheques by post.

The drawback of cheques is having to hand them over. Make sure you find a contact-free way to do this (such as putting it in an envelope and leaving it where your volunteer will leave your shopping) if you do want to pay by cheque.

Pros of paying by cheque:

  • If you already have a cheque book, this could be easier for you than accessing cash

Cons of paying by cheque:

  • Volunteers may find it difficult to cash them
  • Will have to find a way to make contact-free

Other payment methods

We'll update this story with any more methods for paying volunteers as they emerge.

This story was originally published on 16 April and has been updated since then to include new payment options.