Getting priority food shopping access as a carer

5 min read

Across the UK a lot of carers are struggling to buy food for people they are looking after, meaning many at-risk individuals are currently in isolation without adequate supplies. Conversely, a lot of at-risk people who may or may not have received a letter from the NHS are struggling to find access to delivery slots, or find themselves in endless online queues.

Is this guide for me?

This guide explains how to register yourself, or someone you care for, for priority access to online food shopping in cases where coronavirus complications are a high risk. A simple rule of thumb is that anyone who qualifies for an annual flu vaccination on medical grounds is typically seen as being at risk.

Who is at-risk? Check the government guidelines to see if you or someone you care for qualifies

This guide may help if you have experienced any of the following.

Someone who relies on you for groceries is being shielded, and:

  • You can’t travel to them
  • You are self-isolating with symptoms
  • You are self-isolating with them
  • You can’t find groceries locally for them

You qualify as being at risk, and:

  • Have received a letter from the NHS
  • Have not received a letter from the NHS
  • Are self-isolating alone
  • Are self-isolating with your household

Are any of the above, and:

  • Rely on online food shopping, but can’t get regular delivery slots
  • Have got stuck or rejected whilst registering for priority access

How the UK government shares your data with supermarkets

Currently, the UK government is sharing the email addresses of anyone registered as extremely vulnerable with all major supermarkets that do online food delivery services.

Supermarkets are then matching these email addresses against accounts that are registered with their online food delivery service, and giving them priority.

What we know

You are not automatically enrolled, even if you got a letter.

You need to manually register as extremely vulnerable, otherwise the government will not share your email address with supermarkets, even if you received a letter from the NHS.

You do not need a letter to register.

Many people have been missed off the original mailing list due to several reasons such as having incomplete medical records. This does not automatically disqualify you from registration.

You can register on behalf of someone else.

Although previously unclear, the form now states that you can register for priority access on behalf of someone else as a carer. Not being able to, or finding it difficult to, fill in the application form does not make the person you care for exempt.

You do not need to notify your supermarket after registering.

The government will share your email after you have registered yourself or someone you care for as extremely vulnerable. You do not need to give further instructions to the government or your supermarket. Your supermarket will notify you automatically if they find a match.

It’s unlikely you will get confirmation from the government.

Most people (if not all) are reporting that they do not receive a confirmation email, text, or letter from the government to say they’ve been added to the extremely vulnerable list — this does not mean you or someone you care for has been rejected. You will only know your data has been shared once supermarkets find a match and give you priority access.

You do not have to give further details after registering.

There are no other changes to your online food shopping experience, or hidden requirements from your supermarket or the government.

Some supermarkets are automatically detecting who is vulnerable.

It’s unclear what data they’re using to do this, but likely they have made assumptions based on age. If you or someone who you care for shop online with Waitrose, please check your spam as you/they may already have priority access.

What we don’t know

How often data is shared by the government with supermarkets.

This might be immediate or done in timed batches — from various reports it appears some supermarkets are able to identify vulnerable customers a few days after registering. Some take around a week or two.

What you need to get started

You will need

  • A live and working email address you can easily access
  • Your NHS number, or the NHS number of who you’re registering for
  • One or more accounts registered with any online food shopping service using the same email address as above (you can do this before or after registering as extremely vulnerable, but it’s ideal to do this before)

Where is my NHS number?
You can find it on any letter the NHS has sent you or on a prescription.

I don’t have any accounts for online food shopping.

If you do not have an account registered with an online food shopping service, don’t panic. Some services have limited this for now, but most are still accepting new registrations.

Please note, Sainsburys are only accepting new registrations from emails which are registered with the government as extremely vulnerable. Ocado is not accepting new registrations at the time of writing this guide.

The Telegraph has an up-to-date guide on which online supermarkets are prioritising vulnerable customers.

Registering as extremely vulnerable

Firstly, you will need to register yourself or the person you care for as extremely vulnerable on the following website:

Please note that you can get support directly from the government if needed, however due to high demand this service is running slowly. It is advised to rely on friends and family first.

Remember that you can register whether or not you have a letter.

Registering for yourself

Answer the questions normally. If you are unsure if your asthma or COPD are classed as severe, consult with your regular GP or nurse, or use the following resources from AsthmaUK to check:

Asthma risk checker
Asthma specialist nurse hotline 0300 222 5800

Registering for someone else

Answer the questions according to the medical needs of the individual you are registering for.

Please note, that your details as a carer are not taken. Use an email that you can access if you are doing food shopping on behalf of the person you care for, and ensure that this email is registered (or will be registered) to an online food shopping account.

What to do if you have priority, but can’t get delivery slots

Unfortunately, high demand means there’s a lot of pressure on supermarkets and many don’t have delivery slots. If you’re struggling to make sure you or someone you care for are able to get adequate provisions, you can also try the following:

  • Contact your local greengrocers or independent shops and see if they can do deliveries. Many local shops are now offering this service to vulnerable customers, and will not need proof of priority registration like most local supermarkets.
  • If you don’t live local to someone you care for, ask a neighbour or friend you trust and see if you can safely coordinate for neighbours to do a food drop off or check in. There are also volunteers on Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK that can provide assistance.
  • Contact neighbours and ask if they have a delivery slot and see if you can append anything to their order. You can also do this to coordinate future food shops between multiple neighbouring households.

For additional advice, Which? have a comprehensive guide on how to get food if you’re struggling and considered vulnerable.

Lilian Tula

Lilian Tula

Head of Design. Helping people open up about money. Be excellent to each other.

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