From April 1 retailers that purchase alcohol from a UK wholesaler will need to ensure they have been approved by HMRC.

The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) will require retailers to check that their wholesalers are HMRC-approved by checking the Unique Reference Number (URN) on their invoices.

Retailers will be able to use the HMRC online look-up system for URNs that is due to be available by the end of March. If a retailer buys alcohol from a non-registered wholesaler, they may be liable to a criminal or civil penalty, their alcohol may be seized, and they could lose their alcohol licence.

The Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) are urging retailers to prepare their business ahead of 1 April, by asking their wholesalers if they have applied for HMRC registration, and reviewing their processes and supply chains to make sure that they are only sourcing legitimate alcohol.

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme is designed to tackle the illicit alcohol market which has a direct negative impact on responsible retailers. Retailers should prepare their businesses for the new obligations by asking their alcohol wholesalers if they have registered, and understand their obligations from April 1 by using the ACS guide on the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.”

FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “Alcohol wholesalers have been inspected and assessed, and those that have been approved as ‘fit and proper’ traders will have their URNs by the end of March. By regularly checking that their wholesaler is registered, and keeping a record of their checks, retailers can be sure that they will avoid the severe penalties associated with buying illicit stock.”

ACS has produced guidance for retailers on how to comply with the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme as part of its Best Practice guide on preventing duty fraud in the sector, which can be downloaded here.