I’m writing to you today to update you on the range of ways we are helping to get food and essential items to those who need them most.
We continue to prioritise elderly and vulnerable customers for online delivery and have offered over 725,000 elderly and vulnerable people access to slots so far. We identified 450,000 of these customers based on our own data and from customers registering with us. We have also been able to match over 275,000 additional customers in England, Scotland and Wales based on government data and we are contacting these customers to arrange priority home delivery. We will be in touch with more customers based on the database we receive from Northern Ireland as soon as we can. For vulnerable customers who have been offered a slot and are unable to place their order online, we offer a telephone ordering service and we now have five times the number of colleagues on hand to help with this.
As we do our best to keep our colleagues and our customers safe, we have had to temporarily change some of our processes. To help our colleagues socially distance, we are no longer asking them to accept unwanted substitutions or to process refunds on your doorstep. If you do not want the substitutions, then you need to call us to let us know and we will process the refund for you. This is only temporary and we are working on a digital process make this quicker and smoother. I apologise for the inconvenience in the meantime and I’ll write again to let you know when the new process is up and running.
As I’m sure you can appreciate, our online home delivery and click & collect services are in more demand than ever before. We are increasing our capacity as much and as quickly as we are can and by the end of the month we aim to offer 600,000 online slots per week. We are doing our best to add more slots and will keep going with this but it’s important that I highlight that there is far more demand for these slots at the moment than we can ever satisfy. I have therefore included below a full list of other ways to access food and other essential items.
We are doing our best to reduce queuing times both inside and outside our stores. To help with this, we have been extending our opening hours. By Monday the vast majority of our supermarkets will be open from 08.00-22.00. We are installing perspex safety screens in our petrol filling station stores and these will start to re-open from next week. We are also extending opening hours in many Convenience stores to 10pm or 11pm. You can check the latest opening hours in your area before shopping here.
To help with queuing inside stores, we are installing additional protective screens between manned checkouts. These screens will help keep our colleagues and customers safe and will mean we can open far more manned checkouts in the stores that have them. We are installing them in over 150 stores over the next week or two and I will keep you updated on this and other steps we are taking to help make your shopping trip quicker and easier.
For elderly, vulnerable and social care workers, we offer dedicated shopping hours between 08.00 and 09.00 every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. And NHS workers can shop in our supermarkets from 07.30 to 08.00 Monday to Saturday before they open. We have also extended our partnership with WHSmith to provide easy access to food for NHS workers in 80 hospitals across the UK at a discounted rate.
We know that many of you are already shopping for friends, family and neighbours and we are very grateful to you for providing this community service. I mentioned in my last letter that we were launching a Volunteer Shopping Card to make it easier for people to shop for others and I am pleased to let you know that these are now available online.
For customers who are struggling to leave the house to get to the shops, we have also expanded our on-demand delivery service ChopChop to London zones 1 and 2. The service allows you to choose up to 20 of 400 grocery and essential items for home delivery within an hour. We’re looking at how we can bring this service to more people in more places across the country and I will keep you updated on progress.
Many of you have also written to ask me what additional steps we are taking to support the most vulnerable in our communities. In addition to donating £3 million in cash to Fareshare to help to distribute food to food banks and other vulnerable communities across the UK, we are also supporting the government’s free school meal vouchers scheme, ensuring that children who qualify for free school meals can continue to access free meals while schools are closed. Many of you are also helping us to make a real difference to communities across the UK by buying a copy of The Big Issue in stores and online. We are also supporting Comic Relief and the BBC on The Big Night In, which is raising money for people impacted by COVID-19. I hope lots of you will be able to join me in tuning in this Thursday at 7pm and donating in a range of ways if you can.
I know that most of you really appreciate the essential role that our colleagues are playing at the moment to keep the nation fed. Our colleagues are working in really challenging circumstances, constantly trying to balance the need to serve our customers well, to keep shelves stocked and to help people get in and out of shops as quickly as possible. We are also asking them to help us keep you safe. Unfortunately this mean they will ask you to queue outside shops when they are busy. Please help us to make our colleagues’ jobs easier by showing them kindness and respect at all times.