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Sainsbury's won't deliver shopping if you're not considered vulnerable

Rebecca Smithers
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters</span>
Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

I received an NHS text telling me to stay home and to have no contact with other people for the next 12 weeks. For the past four years I have been treated with immune therapy for chronic lymphocytic leukaemia. I also receive personal independence payments because I have to wear a rigid back brace due to 11 vertebral compression fractures. I live on my own in a rural location.

I have had delivery passes for Sainsbury’s home delivery for the last six years but their website will not let me book a delivery as their system states that I am not a vulnerable customer. According to its website, my 85-year-old mother who lives on her own and has dementia is also not a vulnerable customer. When I ring the helpline it is either engaged or there is a message and then I get cut off.

I really need help getting food delivered in the next 12 weeks and don’t seem to be able to even talk to any member of staff at Sainsbury’s. Please can someone help to get them to acknowledge my status?

AK, Penzance, Cornwall

As a vulnerable woman aged 78 with multiple disabilities I have been trying for a week now to inform Sainsbury’s of my situation in order to get my regular online shopping given priority. The website is useless and the telephone help centre is permanently engaged.

My disabilities include type 2 diabetes, osteoarthritis and asthma. I have no help whatsoever and have been online grocery shopping for some time now.

On 17 March I started trying to inform them of my situation. At that stage each day I hung on for periods ranging from 30 minutes to an hour and three-quarters. Finally on the Saturday I spoke to a man who assured me a form to fill in would be online on the Monday. No such thing has appeared and telephone lines are now permanently engaged.

With the latest government advice to stay at home and unable to contact Sainsbury’s, I am at my wits’ end. Please can you help?

MR, Chelmsford, Essex

The coronavirus outbreak and government advice on self-isolation and the need to stay at home has inevitably led to all supermarket delivery services (which typically account for only 7% of supermarket sales but which have since soared to 20%) struggling to meet demand.

We know retailers are buckling under the strain but what has not helped has been little clarity about the definition of who is deemed to be vulnerable. The problem is that while you, AK, appear to be among the 1.5 million most vulnerable identified by the government, you still struggled to get your delivery. Amazingly, MR does not seem to qualify. In addition to correspondence via this column from other readers unable to get their deliveries, the Guardian’s switchboard has been swamped with calls on the same problem.

We contacted Sainsbury’s, which agreed to escalate both your cases. You have subsequently managed to book slots – and another for AK’s mother – with, we understand, all three deliveries successfully made.

The retailer apologised to you both for the inconvenience caused by the long wait times and said: “We are doing our absolute best to offer online delivery slots to elderly and vulnerable customers. Elderly and vulnerable customers have priority over all slots. We have proactively contacted 270,000 customers who had already given us information that meant we could identify them as elderly or vulnerable. Our customer careline is working at full capacity to help other vulnerable customers and we are able to give an additional 8,000 customers a day access to delivery slots over the phone. We have already booked in slots for 115,000 elderly and vulnerable customers this week and this number is growing every day.

“We will (shortly) receive the government database which tells us which people the government considers to be most vulnerable. Where these people are registered with us, we will start to write to them next week to offer them a delivery slot.”

It later added: “Mary and Alison have both been added to our vulnerable customer list and received priority delivery slots.”

Sainsbury’s is also prioritising elderly and vulnerable customers with its click-and-collect service, which is also busy.

In response, AK told us: “Thank you so much for all your help, which has given me the best possible result and has made my birthday a much happier day today.” MR said: “Delivery arrived with very knowledgable driver. Sainsbury’s should be asking them for their opinions as they get to know their customers very well.”