More than 1,300 applicants failed to obtain registration under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) and must now cease trading alcohol. Any trade buyer who purchases from an unregistered wholesaler will face severe penalties, which could include fines and imprisonment.
Since April 1st it has been an offence for businesses which buy alcohol for onward sale to make purchases from a wholesaler without checking that the source is registered with HMRC. They must do this by asking the wholesaler for their Unique Reference Number (URN) and entering it into an online look-up service at Gov.uk. HMRC warns that anyone who does not make the required checks could be fined or sent to prison if they buy from a wholesaler who is not approved.
Two weeks after the introduction of AWRS, FWD members are reporting an uplift in sales of beers and wine as illicit traders who failed to get AWRS approval go out of business. However, they also say that some unregistered wholesalers are still attempting to hoodwink retailers and publicans into buying from them.
FWD Chief Executive James Bielby said: “It is vitally important that alcohol trade buyers understand that it is their responsibility to check they are buying legally.
“AWRS is already having a positive effect and saving millions in taxpayers’ money as duty cheats are forced out of the market. Those who failed their HMRC inspection, or did not apply for AWRS registration, will not have the required URN. A small number of businesses have been given an extension until the middle of May to sell through their stock.
“You must make the necessary check when you buy from a new source and keep a record of it. The look-up system is very easy to use and it will help prevent you falling prey to the criminals and being implicated in their fraudulent activity.”
HMRC said that 17% of the 7400 businesses that applied for alcohol wholesaler registration had not met the scheme’s ‘fit and proper trader’ requirements when AWRS went live on April 1st.
HMRC’s approved wholesalers can be searched by their URNs at https://www.gov.uk/check-alcohol-wholesaler-registration