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What help is available for the vulnerable to get food and essentials?

Paloma Kubiak
Written By:
Paloma Kubiak

With the lockdown now in its third week and the most vulnerable in society told to shield for three-months, the government, supermarkets and communities are rallying to help deliver essential supplies.

The NHS has written to 1.5 million clinically vulnerable people advising them to stay at home for 12 weeks to help them shield from coronavirus.

While many will be helped by family, friends and neighbours, others may already be isolated without a support network and no means to get food or essentials.

The government, supermarkets and local community groups have launched schemes to help the most vulnerable.

Supermarkets are now urging shoppers who are able to come into store to do so, to free up online delivery slots for those who are unable to leave their homes to get the basics.

A number of volunteer schemes have been set up by local community groups and councils so check your local authority website or Facebook to see what help is available.

A list of names of the most vulnerable has also been shared with supermarkets who can cross check this information with details of existing customers to prioritise food delivery. However, this is limited to just those who have shopped previously.

Below, we list the main schemes to help you or someone you know who may be vulnerable to get essential groceries to their homes:

Free food boxes

Thousands of food boxes have been delivered to those defined as clinically vulnerable in England. The weekly boxes include essential supplies and household items such as pasta, fruit, tinned goods, biscuits, tea bags and cereal.

If you have a medical condition which makes you extremely vulnerable to coronavirus and you need support, sign up via the government’s website. You can register yourself or on behalf of someone else.


Priority shopping hours for elderly or vulnerable customers are available Monday to Saturday, 30 minutes before normal opening times. Its grocery range isn’t available to buy online.


Asda said it has been working with DEFRA and other supermarkets for the last couple of weeks to understand how to ensure essentials reach those with no support network.

It said data received from the government has allowed it to email tens of thousands of existing customers to offer first access to free delivery slots (maximum one per week). Asda is working with similar programmes for customers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It doesn’t operate priority shopping hours for the elderly or vulnerable. But it has also launched a volunteer shopping card which can be brought online and topped up. The card is then emailed to a volunteer or can be printed out and left in a safe place for a volunteer to collect and use. The volunteer can then shop using the card, making payment using the barcode.


Vulnerable customers and those who care for them have access to priority shopping between 8am and 9am Monday to Saturday and between 10am and 11am on Sundays.

It has also launched Co-operate, an online community platform which connects shoppers to local and national organisations as well as volunteers to offer and receive support during the crisis. This includes getting food and other essentials.

Co-op also partnered with Deliveroo to offer household items for delivery seven days a week in under 30 minutes.


It said it aims to prioritise the elderly and vulnerable wherever possible via priority hours in the first hour of trading at stores.

Iceland has also launched a pop-up on its website which enables it to prioritise elderly and vulnerable people. It is also using the database provided by the government to identify and prioritise the most vulnerable customers.


It doesn’t operate any dedicated shopping hours for the vulnerable. However, it has rolled out customer food donation boxes in stores to help local community groups and those in need of food and supplies, run in partnership with Neighbourly.


It has dedicated the first hour of trading on Monday and Thursday for the elderly and vulnerable to shop.

M&S has also partnered up with Deliveroo to supply households with essential supplies.


It has launched the Morrisons Food Box scheme providing those who can’t currently get to a store with a selection of food ranges, priced between £30 and £45.

Customers or those helping the vulnerable can select the box they require, place an order and it will be delivered straight to the address. However, when YourMoney.com checked today, we were placed in a queue with a wait time of nearly three hours.

Just this week, Morrisons partnered with Deliveroo to offer customers household essentials delivered in around 30 minutes for a c. £5 fee depending on the area and distance to the store.


It is currently not accepting orders from new customers but has a priority access list for existing shoppers. Otherwise it is releasing thousands of food delivery slots at 6pm tonight.


It is giving vulnerable customers priority access to home delivery after identifying around 270,000 of these existing shoppers. Like other supermarkets, it received a list from the government as is in the process of contacting them. Sainsbury’s is awaiting details for shoppers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It is also looking to introduce a new volunteer gift card and online voucher in the next week or two.

Otherwise every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, all stores dedicate 8am to 9pm to serve elderly, disabled, vulnerable and their carers.


Tesco is working with the government to prioritise home delivery slots for vulnerable customers. It said it is reserving hundreds of thousands of home delivery slots a week and has already started contacting these customers to let them know.

It is also expanding its home delivery and click & collect schemes as fast as it can. Priority delivery slots will operate between 10am-6pm or 2pm-10pm.

Again, this only covers England for now.


The supermarket said it has committed at least 25% of its orders to elderly and vulnerable customers and it’s in the process of contacting these shoppers.

Just this week, Waitrose launched an e-gift card scheme allowing people to shop for the vulnerable and those who may be self-isolating.