Illicit tobacco

HMRC has gathered intelligence from past seizures

Industry bodies have applauded a new HMRC crackdown on illicit alcohol and tobacco, which costs taxpayers £3bn in lost revenue each year.

The move will involve HMRC officers swooping on warehouses, self-storage sites, businesses and workplaces, as well as shops suspected of being used to sell, store, supply or distribute such goods.

The HMRC confirmed it had identified ‘high risk’ hotspots using intelligence gathered from a number of sources including ‘past seizures’.

A spokesman for the Federation of Wholesale Distributors described the move as “potentially very good news” and said the £1.2bn-a-year duty evasion on alcohol was a “massive drain on the profitability” of legitimate traders.

“By extending [checks] to warehouses and self-storage, it means the HMRC is moving away from the retailer towards the people who are carrying out the real fraud and properly targeting the criminals,” the spokesman added.

James Lowman, chief executive for the Association of Convenience Stores, said: “We believe any retailer who sells non-duty-paid alcohol or tobacco should be subject to the full force of the law. This new wave of activity from HMRC is a welcome sign, and its commitment to working with licensing authorities gives hope that more retailers selling illicit alcohol and tobacco will lose their licence.”

Jennie Granger, HMRC’s director general of enforcement and compliance, added: “Anyone we catch who is involved in excise fraud can expect a wide-ranging response that could include the seizure of goods, being issued with a financial penalty and potentially a thorough investigation into all their tax affairs. We will also work closely with partner agencies and licensing authorities to ensure any businesses found selling illicit goods do not benefit from fraud.”