Apply or die: HMRC challenges alcohol wholesalers to prove they play fair


Alcohol wholesalers now have to prove they are trading legally or they could find themselves out of business by next year.

The window for applications for approval under HMRC’s Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) opened on 1st January 2016 and closes on 31st March. Wholesalers of beers, wines and spirits must apply for registration within this period and satisfy HMRC’s inspectors that they are not buying or selling duty-evaded stock.

The online application process can be accessed through the Government Gateway, with applicants expected to present details of their company for inspection and approval. Companies which fail to apply during the three-month window may find that they are unable to trade in alcohol once the scheme goes live in April 2017.

HMRC has issued guidance on the application process and the information required.

Around £1.2bn in duty and VAT is lost to alcohol fraud every year. HMRC believes that the AWRS inspection regime will identify rogue traders and return lost business to responsible, law-abiding wholesalers. From April 2017, any retailer selling alcohol products will be required to demonstrate that they bought their stock from a registered wholesaler.

James Bielby, Chief Executive of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors, said: “We have campaigned hard over the years for a clampdown on criminals in the alcohol supply chain, and AWRS is a vital step towards that. It will reveal those traders who are unable or unwilling to meet the ‘fit and proper trader’ criteria which HMRC will be looking for through the application and inspection process.

“Together with increased investment in detection and prosecution, AWRS will help drive duty fraudsters out of alcohol, which is good news for taxpayers, and great news for legitimate distributors and retailers.”