Illicit alcohol wholesalers will be exposed and investigated ahead of next year’s introduction of the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme, a Treasury Minister has said.
In a letter to FWD, Damian Hinds MP, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said that HMRC would ‘take robust action to enforce the requirements of the scheme where [wholesalers] have not complied despite knowing they should.” He said that over the 11 months before the scheme goes live next April, the enforcement agency would be building intelligence and taking advantage of the new Alcohol Control Room announced in last year’s Budget to investigate potential rogue traders.
"Even if illicit wholesalers manage to evade attention during 2016-17, from April 2017 it will be increasingly difficult for them to carry out their trade without being detected,” he added.
Mr Hinds said that the scheme would establish an accurate measure of the number of alcohol wholesalers, following criticism that HMRC’S initial estimate of 21,000 expected applicants for AWRS proved to be high, with less than 5,000 meeting the March 31 deadline for applications. As no previous register of alcohol wholesalers had been held by HMRC or any other body, it was hard to say accurately how many should apply and to target communications, he added. HMRC is looking at who has applied to see if extra communication is necessary for particular groups.
From April next year, retailers will be required to check that the are buying from a registered wholesaler via an online look-up service. Mr Hinds said work will continue to prepare retailers for this.
FWD members who trade in alcohol have all applied for registration. Chief Executive James Bielby said: “We are very pleased that the Treasury and HMRC are committed to vigorously pursuing the illegal traders who have for years been able to take business away from legitimate wholesalers. We will work with the Government and other trade associations to make sure that licensed retailers understand their responsibilities from April next year. It should not be a burden on responsible retailers to quickly check that their wholesaler is registered - in fact, the AWRS online look-up will make their normal due diligence significantly easier.”