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Payment methods for shopping done by volunteers for others during COVID-19

April 27, 2020

There are different ways to handle transactions – whether it’s between shopping volunteers and those who they are shopping for or for other financial transactions.

As most things over the last few weeks, methods have evolved, and may now have reached a point where good practice and valid options are beginning to start:

What supermarkets are offering

Asda, Sainburys (announced but not yet launched), Waitrose and Marks & Spencer are offering ‘volunteer cards’.

These are essentially vouchers, not cards, but they operate in the same kind of way. The person ‘buys’ a card online and it’s emailed to the volunteer who then uses this to pay for the shopping. There are some variations between the supermarkets, but primarily the isolated person tops up the voucher so the volunteer can use the card repeatedly.

Morrisons and Tesco don’t have a dedicated volunteer card but are encouraging people to use their existing gift card system in roughly the same way. And until they launch their volunteer card, you can also use Sainsburys existing gift cards.

What other organisations are offering

Banks, building societies and other financial services organisations are also finding new ways to tackle these issues:

  • Expend – is offering its spending and expense management tools to new customers for free until September 2020 for up to 20 users. This is ideal for charities working on the front line to support their communities and need a way to pay for goods and services, volunteer expenses, track mileage and other expenses.
  • Post Office Payout – before the pandemic, this system was only available in the Post Office but now many banks and building societies have also signed up. An isolated person asks their bank/building society to send a one-time barcode to the volunteer (it can be text, email or post). The volunteer takes this into the bank/building society, and they can draw out the amount of cash designated to that barcode. Not all banks are doing this, so check with your bank first.
  • Starling Banks’ Connected Card – if an isolated person banks with Starling they can add a second card for a trusted volunteer. This card is connected to a section of their bank account and they can drop in however much money is required for that transaction. The snag is when the card is ordered it goes to the bank account holder who then must pass it to the volunteer, creating an opportunity for potential virus transfer.
  • Contactless payment devices – some local organisations are using contactless devices to take payments. A good example is Square which does have an upfront fee of £22.80 and charges a percentage for each transaction.
  • Nat West / RBShttps://www.rbs.com/rbs/news/2020/04/natwest–royal-bank-of-scotland-and-ulster-bank-launch-card-for-.html 

Other options:

    • Paying over the phone – Some stores (including large Tesco stores) are accepting payments over the phone. This is also the option used by volunteers using the Good SAM app.
    • Bank transfer – Payments can be sent via telephone or online banking. However, those who are sending payments do not need to share their bank details to do this and should be wary of anyone asking for them.
    • Paying by cash – This is not encouraged as ensuring the handover of cash is contact free does not seem possible. Plus, there are issues around having the right change and people running out of cash. Shops are also discouraging the use of cash because of the risk of virus transfer.
    • Paying by cheque – The possibility for transfer is still there but is reduced. Not everyone has a cheque book these days – but banks may be able to still issue them. 


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COVID-19: Support, advice and information for the community
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