Alcohol wholesalers are risking fines of up to £10,000 or even a criminal conviction if they fail to apply for registration by the end of March, HM Revenue and Customs has warned today.

Wholesalers that sell alcohol to other businesses have until March 31 to apply to register for HMRC's Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme (AWRS).

The scheme aims to stop illegal alcohol, where duty has not been paid, entering the supply chain to retailers - the shops, pubs, restaurants and other outlets that sell to consumers.

It will help honest businesses that are struggling against the illicit trade. Around £1.2 billion a year in taxes is going unpaid, often due to illegal trading by a minority of wholesalers that are competing unfairly.

Laura Pollard, HMRC's deputy director for alcohol and tobacco, said: "Do not run the risk of being hit with a fine. Give yourself plenty of time to get your application done on time.

"Any business selling alcohol to other businesses should check whether they need to apply. Don't leave it too late.

"AWRS will help hardworking, legitimate businesses by ending the illegal competition from traders selling illicit alcohol."

HMRC will assess whether wholesalers are 'fit and proper'. This involves considering factors like connections to convicted alcohol fraudsters, whether adequate checks are done to protect the business from receiving illegal supplies and whether adequate records are kept.

Wholesalers failing to meet the 'fit and proper' test will not be able to trade in alcohol and face fines if they continue.

Businesses will need to provide information such as types of customer, products sold, premises used and details of their main suppliers, when they apply.

Retailers will have to buy from approved wholesalers from April 2017. HMRC will publish details of approved wholesalers online.

More details about registering are available here.