An Asda store in Swansea refused to sell a mum school uniform, telling her they were not allowed to because it was a “non-essential” item.
Five-year-old Amber Davies had grown out of her previous uniform and desperately needed new clothes after starting back at school last week.
But when her mum and grandmother, who are in a support bubble, explained their situation to staff at Asda, Llansamlet on Friday, February 26 they were turned away.
However, the family was able to purchase uniform at Tesco in Llansamlet the following morning.
Despite the inconvenience Amber’s grandmother, Alison Clement, 55, said she doesn’t blame supermarket staff for refusing “essential” uniform because they are in “an impossible situation”.
She said: “Amber turned five last week and started back at school. She is very tall for her age and her last uniform was age seven to eight and did not fit her anymore.
“We went to the customer services desk at Asda and explained the situation. The staff were lovely but told us trading standards had been there the previous day and told them that under no circumstances were they allowed to sell non-essential items.
“I don’t blame the staff at all. They’ve been put in an impossible situation and have to make the call about what is and isn’t essential and then have to take the brunt.”
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Ms Clement said the family did not like going out unnecessarily in the pandemic, but that the refusal meant they they were left with no choice but to try another store.
So on Saturday morning, they called into Tesco in Llansamlet.
“We wanted to get her pinafore, a cardigan and some tights along with some trousers for my grandson who starts school soon,” said Ms Clement.
“We went to Tesco customer services and explained the situation. The staff member we spoke to called a colleague who wrote down a list of what we needed, then brought the items to us so we could have a look.
“We were told by them that we weren’t the first ones going there for the same reason.”
As it stands, baby clothes are the only clothing items stated as “essential” by the Welsh Government.
However, a shop can sell someone non-essential items for “emergency or compassionate” reasons.
It is up to the individual supermarket’s discretion to decide whether a non-essential item fits into this category.
If a supermarket is caught breaking the rules, they can be issued with compliance notices from the council and may be fined – a figure not limited on the statutory scales.
Ms Clement said: “It’s not fair on the staff in supermarkets – it’s a big responsibility on them and they don’t want to break the rules.
“They’ve taken enough grief through this pandemic and they are the ones who have kept us all going.
“We need some different or clearer guidelines. How can we buy tobacco but not essential clothes for our children? As adults we can make do without buying clothes for a long time, but children can’t – they’re changing and growing all the time.”
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According to the Welsh Government, supermarkets are fine to sell items such as school uniform via a click and collect service. Shops are also allowed to continue trading through online purchases.
However, Ms Clement said this isn’t always an easy option for families needing clothes for children experiencing growth spurts.
“It was Amber’s birthday last week and we ordered some clothes for her, but most of them had to be sent back. You can order the same size from two different shops and they will be completely different sizes bu the time you get them,” she said.
“And with school uniform you need to make sure it fits properly. You can buy multiple sizes to try on and see which fits best, but people don’t always have the money to be able to order a lot in one go just to be sent back later – my daughter has been on furlough, people are struggling.”
A spokesman from Asda said: “Throughout the pandemic we have followed the government guidance to ensure our stores are safe. That means that we are currently not permitted to sell school clothing in our store in Swansea.
“However we do recognise that some customers may need to purchase non-essential items on emergency and compassionate grounds –in these cases we will allow customers to purchase these items.
“We also offer click and collect and home delivery through George.com, so customers can shop our full range online.”
A spokesman from Tesco said they agree that school uniform is considered non-essential by the Welsh Government, but that in this situation they felt it was correct to sell uniform to Amber’s family.
“ School uniform is classed as non-essential by Welsh Government and these items are currently cordoned off at our Llansamlet Extra store.,” said the Tesco spokesman.
“However, the current rules allow us to sell these items if there are emergency or compassionate grounds for doing so. Once the customer explained to our store colleagues that she needed to purchase the items on that basis we were very happy to help her.”
A spokesperson for Swansea Council said: “Our advice to all the supermarkets when we visit their stores is that they should follow the Welsh Government regulations.”
A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “All retail businesses can offer click and collect services, which enable people to buy items they need without having to go into shops.
“Supermarkets and other shops selling multiple types of product are also able to sell products that are not on general sale at alert level four if they are needed in an emergency or on compassionate grounds.”