New controls for alcohol retailers and wholesalers are being introduced by HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) from October 1 onwards.

Under the scheme, retailers will have to buy from approved wholesalers from April 2017. HMRC will publish details of approved wholesalers online.

Laura Pollard, HMRC’s Deputy Director for Alcohol and Tobacco, said: “The scheme will ensure all businesses are competing on a level playing field. Hardworking businesses that follow the rules will no longer lose out to criminals dealing in illicit alcohol.

“Applying will not be difficult and businesses can make it even easier by getting ready. Once they have applied, we will assess their application and let them know if they are approved.”

It is vital retailers are aware of the new controls - which are the latest attempt by HMRC to counter the significant problem of alcohol duty fraud - according to tax consultant Alan Powell, director of Alan Powell Associates.

“Of the various anti-fraud measures under consideration in 2012, the only one being taken up is a scheme to register and control wholesalers of duty paid alcohol under the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS),” he said. “The new law will start to kick in very soon and will have a ‘two stage’ effect.

“Firstly, almost all business-to-business vendors of duty-paid alcohol will have to be approved by HMRC as wholesalers of alcohol in order to trade,” he explained.

“Trading ‘wholesale’ in this context means the trading in any quantity of alcohol. Many businesses will be affected by the new scheme who would not even consider their business to be ‘wholesale’. HMRC will start to register existing wholesalers in a window from October 1 – December 31, 2015. Businesses trading in alcohol should therefore review all their activities to check whether they need to be approved as wholesalers and make application on time if an approval is necessary.

“Secondly, ‘trade buyers’ (mainly retailers) will have to check that their suppliers are approved by HMRC. It will be an offence for retailers not to carry out such checks when the scheme takes full effect from April 1, 2017. Retailers should also prepare for the new scheme and their obligations under it.”

He said failure to comply with the new laws will lead to severe sanctions as HMRC gets tougher in the fight against alcohol duty fraud.