THE Scottish Wholesale Association has urged retailers to check their alcohol wholesaler is registered under new rules, which come into force on April 1.
After that date, any retailer who buys from a source that has not been approved by HMRC as a “fit and proper” alcohol trader could face penalties, including fines, seizure of their stock, and the loss of their licence.
The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) is designed to protect shops selling beer, wine and spirits from prosecution by ensuring they only buy from wholesalers that have paid duty on alcohol products. It will also contribute to recouping the £1.2bn duty revenue lost every year through the illicit trade.
Bestway Wholesale is among a number of wholesalers to have pledged support for the scheme.
Quoting government statistics, the wholesaler said the amount of alcohol sold illegally in the UK has reached its highest ever levels this century, with the fraudulent sales of beer alone now measured at 15% of the total UK market.
Additionally, in 2014-15 the amount of non-duty paid spirits doubled from 6% to 12%.
Managing director Martin Race said: “The fraudulent trade in alcohol has been a major problem for many years. The wholesaler sector and our customers have suffered as white van man and other less scrupulous ‘wholesalers’ have flooded the market with bootleg booze. The AWRS will clamp down on this supply and also provide customers with the confidence that they are operating within the legal framework.
“We welcome the new scheme, are grateful for the work of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors in lobbying for the legislation and are proud to be among the first to register.”
The SWA has been contacting its members to ensure they have been inspected and assessed by HMRC and issued with Unique Registration Numbers (URNs). However, it is the retailer’s responsibility to check they are buying from a registered source – from April 1, go to hmrc.gov.uk and follow the link to the AWRS look-up service.
It also said retailers should ask their wholesaler for their registration number and use the website to confirm that their wholesaler is approved. This will give the retailer peace of mind that their wholesaler is operating within the law. If a wholesaler is unable to prove a registration number or the number it supplies does not show its company details on the approved list, any retailer purchasing alcohol from that wholesaler will be breaking the law.
Race added: “Retailers now have no excuses. They either buy from a registered wholesaler or potentially say bye-bye to their alcohol licence. Other penalties include seizure of stock and massive fines and it’s a statement of how far the problem has escalated over the past few years that these severe measures have been introduced.”
HMRC is in the process of completing its assessments of wholesalers and will have issued URNs to all those approved to sell alcohol by April 1. Retailers can buy from wholesalers without a URN until the end of March.
More information is available at: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/the-alcohol-wholesaler-registration-scheme-awrs.