How to access groceries if you're vulnerable and 'shielding' due to coronavirus
Over a million people classed as 'extremely vulnerable' (or 'very high risk') have been asked to stay at home until at least the end of June 2020, to protect themselves from the current coronavirus pandemic. And there are many more who fall into a 'high-risk' category. Along with health concerns, this has caused many to worry about accessing basic supplies, particularly with the high demand for supermarket delivery slots.
I'm not in a vulnerable category myself, but my mum is, and she's spent many an hour refreshing supermarket websites recently. So with help from her, I've pulled together some tips for getting food delivered to your door, including a number of alternatives to shopping at online supermarkets. Sadly they won't all be MoneySaving, but if you can afford to, you may feel it's worth paying a bit more for peace of mind at this time.
The tips below are for vulnerable people. Demand for online supermarket delivery slots is high, and stores are encouraging everyone to "think before you click". Please shop in stores if you can, and leave delivery slots free for vulnerable people.
If you have kind neighbours or volunteers shopping for you right now, see MSE Helen's blog on How to pay them back safely.
1. Register as 'extremely vulnerable' on Gov.uk for help getting essentials
If you have a medical condition that means you're classed as 'clinically extremely vulnerable' to coronavirus, you may have already received a letter asking you to shield at home. 'Shielding' means not leaving your home and minimising contact with other household members.
This category is also known as 'very high risk', and covers certain cancer treatments, organ transplants and respiratory conditions such as cystic fibrosis or severe asthma. See the full list of medical conditions.
Whether you've received a letter or not, if you have one of these medical conditions and you're struggling to access basic supplies, you can register on Gov.uk for help. You can also sign up on behalf of someone else who falls into this category and isn't able to register themselves.
Help available includes:
- Free deliveries of food parcels. Your local authority will deliver a box with basic supplies such as pasta, cornflakes, tea bags, tinned fruit, apples, loo roll and biscuits. If you receive one it'll be left on your doorstep (but you can request help bringing it inside if you need it).
- Medical supplies. You can get any medicines you need delivered by community pharmacies.
- Basic care needs. For example, if you need help with bathing or cleaning your home.
2. Register with supermarkets for access to priority slots
Many big supermarkets are trying to identify their most vulnerable customers, and give them priority access to delivery slots. Some say they're focusing on people on the Government's 'very high-risk' list to do this, but others say you can request access to these slots if you're shielding, but not on that list (eg, if you've been missed off the list, or you're in the 'high-risk' category instead – see the NHS website if you're not sure).
Each supermarket has its own policy when it comes to requesting access to priority slots. For example, Tesco* says you can call it on 0800 917 7359 and, while it can't guarantee a slot, it will do its best to prioritise you along with other vulnerable customers. But Asda told us: "Only those on the Government's list of the most vulnerable have access to priority slots."
For other supermarkets, eg, Sainsbury's, Morrisons, Iceland etc, your best bet may be to contact your council, as they are working with the Government to help vulnerable people access essentials. My mum's council was able to provide her with phone numbers to contact supermarkets, which weren't available online. Of course, only contact your council if you're vulnerable – if you're able to visit a shop you should do so.
3. Get essential food boxes for £24-£35 from Aldi, Home Bargains, Morrisons & M&S
Some stores are offering boxes of essential food for a fixed price, to help those unable to get a grocery delivery slot. While you don't get much choice over what's in the box, it might be a good idea if you're running out of basics such as pasta, milk or cleaning supplies. Again, it's best to get one only if you're vulnerable – if you can visit a shop, you should.
- Aldi – £25. The box includes tinned food (eg, soup, baked beans, rice pudding), pasta, biscuits, tea and instant coffee. It also has toilet paper and handwash.
- Home Bargains – £24. This box includes rice, baked beans, tinned soup, tea, cereal bars and toilet paper.
- Morrisons – £35*. You can choose between a vegetarian or meat-eater's box for £35, which includes a selection of food and essential household items, designed to feed two adults for a week. There's also a separate ready-meal box for £30, which has four different dishes (enough for eight meals).
- M&S – £35*. This includes items such as spaghetti, rice, baked beans and Percy Pig sweets. You can also order fruit or veg boxes for £15-£20.
There's also a catering company called Jaspers, which is delivering a range of food boxes, from a £10 salad box to a £49 'weekly shop' box. It has 25 branches across England, including Birmingham, Newcastle and Reading (see the full list). Delivery's £5, and to order you'll need to email firstname.lastname@example.org to set up an account.
4. Check if Deliveroo or Uber Eats delivers shopping in your area (eg, Morrisons, Co-op, M&S, Aldi, Londis, Shell & more)
Deliveroo and Uber Eats are food-delivery services, best known for delivering from restaurants and fast-food outlets, but they also cover corner shops and off-licences, as well as chains such as Co-op and M&S Food outlets.
Morrisons is working with Deliveroo to offer delivery from 130 of its stores, including some in Bristol, Cardiff and Leeds (see the full list). And Aldi is the latest supermarket to announce a Deliveroo partnership. For now it’s only operating from one Nottingham store but it says this will be extended in June to seven others in the East Midlands, and if it's successful, it’ll be rolled out more widely by the end of 2020.
So if Uber Eats or Deliveroo operate in your area, it's worth checking out what groceries might be available to you (they both have a 'grocery' category, which should help filter out the takeaways). You'll usually have to pay a £3-£5 delivery fee.
The downside to ordering from local stores is the focus on alcohol and snacks over essentials, but when I looked at some of the M&S and Co-op stores on Deliveroo, you could still order useful items such as milk, bread, tea, fruit and ready meals. Morrisons says it's offering 70 ‘essential household items’, while Aldi has made 150 of its products available.
5. Know when online delivery slots are released
All the major supermarkets tell you how many days ahead they release slots, so we've put that info in brackets below. But not all would reveal the time of day they're released, which is also key – it's no good trying at 5pm if they've all gone by 9am. Via MSE Laura F's super-sleuthing, we've found anecdotal evidence from shoppers on Twitter, Facebook and the MSE Forum, to help you get a better idea of when exactly to try within the day.
Here are the official answers where we have them, and suggestions from shoppers if not, for the best times to try for each of the major supermarkets. Keep in mind this is a rough guide – it may still be worth checking supermarket websites throughout the day if you can. Again, only get a slot if you're vulnerable – if you're able to visit a shop, please do so.
- Asda (slots released 14 days ahead). It told us it "does not release home delivery or click and collect slots at a specific time. Slots will update as and when they become available in each area". Our followers and Forumites were fairly evenly split between those who have found slots available just after 10pm and those who had success at midnight. A few more claimed that between 2am and 4am is the sweet spot.
- Co-op (slots released five days ahead). It told us "slots are launched every day, at around midnight".
- Iceland (slots released seven days ahead). It told us it was specific to its stores, and the experience of our followers and Forumites seems to concur with this, with each mentioning a different time of day they were able to find a slot.
- Morrisons (slots released three days ahead). Shoppers told us slots become available just after midnight or first thing in the morning.
- Ocado (slots released at least seven days ahead). It told us there isn't a fixed time when they're released, but priority customers are emailed when slots become available. Once priority customers have had a chance to book slots, non-priority customers will be notified (via a message on the homepage) and will be able to book any slots still available.
- Sainsbury's (slots released seven days ahead). It told us "when the slots are released will vary – there isn't a specific time – and it doesn't depend on the store". We didn't get much feedback from Sainsbury's shoppers, although one person did say that Monday morning has yielded success every week of lockdown so far.
- Tesco (slots released 21 days ahead). A source told us "slots tend to be released at midnight for three weeks ahead" but that it's busy adding extra vans to create more slots. The source said these will be released on a weekly basis once stores have confirmed they have the staff to pick and deliver the orders. An overwhelming number of our followers told us they have success at midnight – several advise logging on 10 minutes before, to enter the online queue.
- Waitrose (slots released three days ahead). It said it's "advising customers to check each morning". This corresponds with the comments we've received from shoppers, who have had success between 6am and 8am, as well as randomly throughout the day.
6. Tips for placing online orders, incl fill your basket in advance & check restrictions on amending your order
With so many people trying to access online grocery slots, supermarket websites are struggling and this has led to slow response times when you navigate them, as well as online 'queues' to access the site itself.
If you're able to nab a delivery slot, you usually have a fixed amount of time to check out before you lose it. The last thing you want is to spend an hour adding shopping to your basket, only to have the website crash once you reach the checkout.
- Check what the restrictions are on editing your order before it arrives. One tactic is to add a few groceries to meet the minimum spend and check out quickly once you've got a slot – you can amend the order later. However, each supermarket has its own restrictions, so check.
For example, Tesco still lets you amend your order any time up until 11pm the day before it's delivered. But Asda only lets you make changes in the last three days before it's delivered (up until 10pm the day before). And Morrisons says you WON'T be able to make changes in the 72 hours before your order's delivered.
- Fill your basket in advance. This is a top tip from my mum (who has had some stressful races to the checkout). As long as you're logged into your account, the items in your basket should be saved until the next time you visit the site. Then once you're able to access a delivery slot, you can check out much quicker, and you won't need to worry about restrictions on editing it afterwards.
7. Check what help is being offered in your area, eg, volunteers, farm shop deliveries, taxi firms picking up groceries etc
It's impossible to list all the companies and individuals offering help, but chances are there are people near you who want to help – you just have to know how to find them. For example, in my mum's area, there's a taxi firm that is offering to pick up 'click and collect' orders from supermarkets, and is only charging for a one-way journey from the supermarket to your home.
Many councils are also recruiting volunteers to help vulnerable people access essential food and medical supplies. If you're struggling, contact your council to find out what help's available.
Local Facebook groups can also come in handy – people are using them to offer assistance or to request help. To find your local group, search for your area or postcode in the main search box on Facebook.
MSE Kelvin has spotted lots of offers to help in his local Facebook group, as well as useful info:
People have been suggesting shops where you can buy things which have been in short supply, asking about the welfare of people known to be vulnerable, listing restaurants, breweries and shops that are delivering. Local restaurants have also posted about stock they're selling or giving away as they can't use it.
MSE Chris D is staying with his parents during lockdown, and they've discovered a number of local shops that deliver food to their door:
We've stumbled upon a couple of really great local farm shops – one was flagged to us by a family friend on Facebook, another put a flyer through our letterbox. Both are prepared to deliver to households that sit slightly outside of their delivery area (it's always worth asking if you're unsure).
We hadn't considered using independent stores initially, but they've been so valuable to us in delivering high quality, fresh food, and have taken away the worry of having to go out to busy shops ourselves. The ability to pay online through PayPal, Google Pay, credit or debit card, or on collection by leaving cash or a cheque securely in an envelope, has also put our minds at rest about observing social distancing when going to pay.
8. Check out other food-delivery options online, eg, recipe boxes
While they're rarely a MoneySaving option, if you're struggling to access online grocery slots, there are a number of posh food-delivery services online which you might have better luck with. Some aren't taking on new customers at the moment, but these are some we've found that still are:
- Hello Fresh – From £30 for three meals for two. It offers recipe boxes with measured-out ingredients to help you cook (quite-fancy) meals from scratch. You can choose from its classic box, rapid box (meals that take less than 20 minutes to cook) or family box (fuss-free meals "approved by kids").
- Mindful Chef – From £21 for two meals for one. Another recipe box service, which aims to help you cook healthy meals at home.
- Pasta Evangelists – From £16ish for two meals for one. These are posh fresh pasta meals, designed to be cooked in just five minutes. Sign up to its newsletter for 20% off your first order.
- Soulful Food* – £30 for 12 meals via code. A vegan ready-meal company – use MSE Blagged code MSE5 and you can get £5 off its 12-meal box, making it £29.99 delivered.
There's also Muscle Food*, which has a focus on sport and nutrition, but offers a range of groceries including meat, ready meals, vegan food and snacks. Delivery's £5.99.
9. If you're struggling to afford your shopping right now, contact your local foodbank
Foodbanks are there to help if you're struggling. They give out free parcels that should provide at least three days' worth of in-date, non-perishable food.
To get help from most foodbanks, you need to be referred (though this isn't the case with some independent foodbanks). You can typically get referred by a doctor, health visitor, school or social worker. If you're not sure who to talk to, try asking Citizens Advice.
You'll likely be asked questions about your income and why you need to use the foodbank. This ensures the food goes to people who need it most. Common reasons for referrals include redundancy, receiving an unexpected bill or a delay in benefit payments.
The Trussell Trust is one of the biggest foodbank charities in the UK, where it runs two-thirds of foodbanks – use its website to check if it operates near you.
Want to help? How to offer assistance, eg, volunteer to pick up groceries, donate to foodbanks etc
One of the easiest ways to check if people in your area need help with collecting groceries (or anything else), is to join your local Facebook group, as above. Alternatively, you could post a note through neighbours' letterboxes offering help (that way they don't need to come to the door, so you can keep to social-distancing rules).
When doing your own essential shopping, if you can afford to buy a few extra bits of food, donating to a foodbank is also a great way to support those in society struggling to afford basic supplies.
How to donate to a foodbank
The easiest way to donate food is to check if your local supermarket has a collection point. They're often found near the checkouts or the exit. Tesco for example has collection points in over 450 stores.
You can also search for your local foodbank on the Trussell Trust's website, then click on the foodbank's name to see a list of collection points where you can donate.
What can I donate?
The Trussell Trust provides non-perishable tinned and dried food (such as cereal and pasta) as well as non-food items such as toiletries. See its website for a list of what to donate. If it operates a foodbank near you, you can also check which specific items your local branch needs.
If there isn't a Trussell Trust foodbank near you, your nearest foodbank may be independent. You can find out how you can help independent foodbanks via the Independent Food Aid Network.
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