April 1, 2017 marked the launch of an online service that will allow those who purchase alcohol for onward sale to check that their UK wholesaler is approved under the Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme (AWRS).

UK alcohol wholesalers should include their AWRS unique reference number (URN) on invoices and correspondence.

The online service, now available at www.gov.uk/check-alcohol-wholesaler-registration, lets retailers and other trade buyers check the number against the HMRC register of approved wholesalers. They should do that as part of their regular due diligence checks.

A ‘print for your records’ facility allows them to keep evidence of their checks. HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) may ask for these details at a later date.

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.

Trade buyers who buy from UK wholesalers who have not been approved by HMRC risk having their stock seized, fines or even a criminal conviction.

The scheme protects honest businesses that are struggling against the illicit trade. Around £1.8 billion a year in taxes on alcohol (including VAT) a year is going unpaid, often due to illegal trading by a minority of wholesalers that are competing unfairly.

Laura Squire, HMRC’s deputy director for alcohol and tobacco, said: “It is the responsibility of any business who purchases alcohol for onward sale or supply to check that the wholesaler they use is operating legitimately.

“A quick and simple check of the AWRS register will give you peace of mind and confidence that your wholesaler is acting lawfully.

“To date, HMRC has protected over £155 million of unpaid alcohol duty thanks to the introduction of the AWRS. We are working to help honest businesses by ending the competition from illegal traders of illicit alcohol.”

Wholesalers who are currently operating without having registered should do so now. New wholesale businesses must apply for AWRS approval 45 days before they start trading.

More information about the Alcohol Wholesale Registration Scheme is available on GOV.UK.