If your trade involves alcohol, whether as a wholesaler or a retailer, then you will be affected by the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS).

From 1 January 2016, HMRC began to consider whether pre-existing or new wholesalers are 'fit and proper' businesses for inclusion on an approved business register.  

All existing alcohol wholesalers must have applied online to HMRC by 31 March 2016 to be registered under the scheme. Wholesalers beginning to trade after 31 March 2016 must apply to HMRC at least 45 days before they intend to begin trading, and they cannot begin to trade unless HMRC approval is granted.

Those granted approval will be included on an online database of approved businesses and issued with a unique reference number (URN) to display on their sales invoices from 1 April 2017.

From 1 April 2017, wholesalers and trade buyers and retailers must only source alcohol from HMRC approved businesses. Where you purchase alcohol from a wholesaler, you must check that they are registered with HMRC and that they have an AWRS URN.

There will be new criminal and civil sanctions for those caught buying alcohol from non-registered sources, and alcohol found on the premises of unregistered businesses may be seized.

Penalties for wholesalers who trade without submitting an AWRS registration  began from 1 April 2016, and penalties for trade buyers purchasing alcohol from unregistered wholesalers began from 1 April 2017.