A Customs boss has pledged a crackdown on black market beer following pressure from wholesalers and the drinks industry.

HMRC is devising a new alcohol strategy that will include a blitz on duty fraud on beer, to be announced by the Chancellor in the forthcoming Budget.

Previously, duty fraud prevention focused mainly on tobacco and spirits but there is growing evidence that the problem of beer fraud needs to be tackled as a priority, said Paul Riley, HMRC assistant director of excise policy responsible for alcohol and tobacco.

Riley said the strategy - which could be launched in the next two months following ministerial approval - would include more prosecutions and drafting more staff on to beer. It could lead ministers to tighten the laws surrounding ‘duty drawback’, by which traders can claim back duty from the Government by claiming the product was sent abroad.

“We will be looking to identify the criminals that are behind a lot of fraud - it’s probably a relatively small criminal fraternity we are talking about,” added Riley. “The key will be getting as much of our compliance activity as possible tackling this network.”