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Retailers urged to be vigilant under AWRS

Published:  01 February, 2017

Retailers must check that their alcohol wholesaler is registered under new rules which come into force on April 1.

With the threat of penalties, including fines, seizure of stock, and the loss of licences for wholesalers and their customers, compliancy with HMRC's Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) is vital for those trading in the UK.

The scheme, which comes into force in two months' time, makes it compulsory for all wholesalers to be registered and fully compliant with the scheme, which aims to recoup some of the £1.2bn duty revenue lost every year to duty fraud.

But it also puts the onus on buyers and retailers to check that any alcohol for re-sale from comes from AWRS approved wholesalers.

James Bielby of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors has highlighted the importance of checking a wholesaler's Unique Registration Number (URN).

"Retailers will be responsible for checking they're buying from a registered source," he said. "They can do this online from April 1 by going to and following the link to the AWRS look up service.

"They just have to enter the registration number they are given by their wholesaler, and confirm that the source is approved. It's a simple process and a small investment of time to ensure they are operating within the law.

"If the wholesaler doesn't have a registration number or the number they give doesn't show their company details on the approved list, retailers will be breaking the law if they buy alcohol from that company."

According to HMRC's full excise document released last year, retailers must not only request, but demonstrate to HMRC that they requested the URN: "Under the new rules, retailers will be responsible for regularly checking that their alcohol is purchased from AWRS-registered sources.

"To ensure your purchase is legitimate, as a trade buyer you'll need to carry out sufficient due diligence. You must demonstrate to HMRC that you requested a wholesaler's URN and checked its authenticity before you did business with them.

"You should also periodically refresh these checks to the extent that you consider it necessary to ensure that a wholesaler's approval has remained valid," the document says.

HMRC has said it will provide an online service which will allow trade buyers to look up the details of their alcohol suppliers to ensure that they are approved for AWRS.

This service is planned to be available from April 1, when the register of approved wholesalers is completed.

For further information and further advice on what to do if a wholesaler doesn't comply, visit the full excise document