HMRC has started the roll-out of new road-side fuel testing equipment across the UK to tackle the trade in illicit diesel. It will be used to check fuel both at the roadside and on dealers’ forecourts.

Treasury minister Damian Hinds visited Belfast and Newry as HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) unveiled the new equipment.

It has been introduced to allow officers to test vehicles at the roadside for the presence of the new fuel marker, which was introduced into supplies intended for use in agriculture and construction industries in April. HMRC says the new marker is resistant to laundering techniques known to be used by criminal gangs and significantly improves its capability to detect fraud.

Previously, the test for the new marker was completed at a laboratory, leading to a delay in identifying illicit fuel and further action being taken. The new equipment will now be installed in HMRC Road Fuel Testing Unit vehicles throughout the UK and used to analyse fuel samples taken at the roadside and at retail premises, starting in Northern Ireland.

Six of the vehicles are due to be operating in Northern Ireland by the end of the summer. It is planned that the entire UK RFTU fleet of 49 vehicles will be fitted with the new roadside analyser by early 2016.

Exchequer secretary to the Treasury, Damian Hinds, said: “I am delighted to see first-hand the new roadside testing equipment in action. Together with the new marker it will play an important part in the fight against fuel fraud.

“At a time when the government’s priority is cutting the deficit, it is unacceptable that criminals are cheating the system. The new marker and testing equipment are part of the significant investment we have made in HMRC to tackle avoidance, evasion and fraud to make sure all businesses and individuals contribute to the tax revenue that is used to fund vital public services.”

Illicit diesel is estimated to make up 13% of the market share of diesel in Northern Ireland and costs the taxpayer around £80m each year in lost taxes.

The government will monitor the success of the marker during the first six months, to make sure it is delivering results in the fight against fuel fraud. HMRC will publish an evaluation in the autumn.