Coronavirus (COVID-19): Accessing food and essential supplies

How to get food and other essential supplies during the coronavirus pandemic.

This guidance was withdrawn on

This page has been withdrawn because it’s no longer current. Check up-to-date coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and information for people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Applies to England

A new COVID-19 variant is spreading in some parts of England. There may be additional advice for your area. Find out what you need to do.

If you’re at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19)

There are some groups who are at higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19 ). These people have been told directly by their GP or hospital clinician, or have received a letter, confirming that they are ‘clinically extremely vulnerable’. See guidance on who is at higher risk from coronavirus, and protecting people who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Priority access to supermarket delivery slots for the clinically extremely vulnerable ended on 21 June 2021. You can still book deliveries from supermarkets in the usual way.

If you’re having difficulty shopping

Follow this guidance if you’re having difficulty shopping because:

  • you’re vulnerable
  • you have a disability that makes social distancing more difficult
  • the support services you usually rely on are not available during the pandemic

You can also contact your local authority to find out what support services are available in your area.

If you can, ask friends, family or neighbours to go out and get food and other essentials for you. Supermarkets and other food shops will remain open during all stages of the roadmap out of the current lockdown.

If you do not have others to help you, there may be charities or community groups who can help in your area or your local shops, markets and wholesalers may offer a delivery service (by phone or by email).

If someone is shopping for you, most of the major supermarkets have alternative ways you can pay for your shopping, such as e-vouchers or gift cards. You can buy these online and the person shopping for you can use them in store. To find out about payment options, visit:

  • your supermarket’s website or call their customer helpline
  • UK Finance (the collective voice for the banking and finance industry)

You may also be eligible for support from the NHS Volunteer Responders programme. You can call 0808 196 3646 and ask for help to pick up food, prescriptions and essential items.

If you’re not able to leave home because you’re self-isolating

The guidance for if you’re having difficulty shopping also applies if you’re self-isolating because:

  • you or someone in your household has symptoms, or you’ve been contacted by NHS Test and Trace
  • you have recently returned to the UK after travelling overseas

You may also contact your local authority to seek urgent help to access food.

If you’re able to leave your home and are not self-isolating

You can shop for food and other essentials in person unless you are self-isolating.

If you need to go to the supermarket, you should:

  • shop alone where possible, as this will reduce the number of contact points between people
  • follow social distancing guidance in store - supermarkets need to be COVID-secure
  • wash your hands before and after visiting stores
  • wear a face covering over both your nose and mouth at all times, unless you have an exemption - read guidance on making and wearing a face covering
  • follow markings and advice in stores
  • try to plan what your household and anyone you are supporting needs for a number of days ahead so that your trips to buy food and essentials are as infrequent as possible

Shopping for others

Consider offering to shop for people you know who are self-isolating or more vulnerable and unable to get to the shops.

If you’ve signed up for the NHS Volunteer Responders programme, you can volunteer to support others in your community as well as family and friends.

If you’re shopping for someone else, most of the major supermarkets have ways that you can pay on behalf of others, such as e-vouchers and gift cards. The person you’re shopping for can buy these online and you can use them in store. Local convenience stores may also have options available so check what is on offer.

Read the guidance on helping others safely.

Find out about the different ways to volunteer during the coronavirus.

Financial support

Wherever you live, you may be able to get financial help.

You can check if your child can get free school meals in England and find out how to apply on your local authority’s website.

Updates to this page

Published 29 April 2020
Last updated 22 June 2021 + show all updates
  1. Updated the information about priority supermarket delivery slots for clinically extremely vulnerable people.

  2. Updated guidance to reflect that if you're clinically extremely vulnerable you're no longer advised to shield.

  3. Updated guidance to account for the national lockdown.

  4. Updated with guidance on accessing food during the lockdown.

  5. Updating the information on accessing food if you are vunerable and can't go to a supermarket.

  6. Updated with guidance on wearing a face covering in shops.

  7. Added guidance on changes to advice on shielding.

  8. First published.

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