The illegal trade in alcohol represents the biggest threat to the profitability of wholesalers in the food and drink sector. Duty-avoided beers, wine and spirits cost the Exchequer £1.3bn in lost revenue on 2015/16, and the consequent loss of trade from legitimate wholesalers to criminal gangs is recognized by our members as the highest priority among FWD’s public affairs work in Westminster. Since the introduction of the Alcohol Wholesaer Registration Scheme in April 2017 we've seen a marked decline in illict trade and consequently sales are returning to responsible, registered wholesalers.

Registration of Alcohol Wholesalers (AWRS)

Legislation was introduced in Finance Bill 2015 to require all UK based wholesalers that sell or arrange a sale of alcohol at or after an excise duty point, to be approved by HMRC. Details here.

Since April 2017 all wholesalers of alcohol have been required to register under the Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme. Following inspection and approval by HMRC, those deemed fit and proper traders are issued with a Unique Reference Number (URN).

Trade buyers of alcohol must ensure their wholesaler is approved under AWRS. They should ask for the wholesaler's URN and enter it into the HMRC look-up service at The company details should match those on the wholesaler's invoice.

It is the retailer's legally responsibility to carry out this check and keep a record of having done so. If the wholesaler is not registered, it is an offence to buy from them. Penalties for buying from an unregistered source may include loss of licence, seizure of stock, fines and imprisonment.

Related Content

Latest News

22/11/2017 - Wholesalers happy with duty delays, fuel freezes and new tax enforcers

19/04/2017 - Buyer beware: avoid unregistered alcohol wholesalers with a simple online check

24/03/2017 - Important news for alcohol trade buyers - from April 1st you need to check your wholesaler is registered

08/03/2017 - Soft drinks and cider top wholesalers’ Budget concerns

01/03/2017 - One month to prepare for alcohol registration


Sugar tax opens a new market for fraudsters - and it’s wholesalers who stand to lose out

Walk the aisles of any cash and carry or distribution centre and you’ll very quickly get a feel for how important the soft drinks category is for wholesale. It’s the ultimate