HM Revenue and Customs – Help us stop the sale of illicit tobacco and alcohol on your premises

Tobacco and alcohol fraud costs the UK over L3.3billion every year in lost revenue. This is money which could be used to fund the vital public services we all rely on.

In addition to lost revenue, the criminals trading in illicit tobacco and alcohol make them more readily available, often to the young and vulnerable in society, potentially putting their health at risk. They also take trade away from honest and legitimate businesses, affecting jobs and families.

HMRC has seen the selling of illicit tobacco and alcohol in drinking establishments, such as clubs, restaurants, entertainment venues and pubs. These instances have resulted in seizures, substantial fines and revoking of licenses against owners and managers.

Organised criminal groups could be using your premises to sell tobacco products, whether out of a bag or rucksack, through your own staff, under the counter, at the door or in the parking area.

Questions that a responsible, licensed publican should ask themselves:

·         Do some of your patrons visit regularly and carry large bags or holdalls?

·         Do they meet with the same people or staff every time and are their actions suspicious; for example is money passed between them?

·         Do you have good coverage of what’s going on in your establishment, in designated smoking areas or at the door?

·         Are you confident that your recruitment and due diligence of contract staff is robust enough?

·         Are people regularly meeting in the car park? Why? Could they be selling illicit goods?

Organised criminals dealing these products do not care for your welfare, your business reputation, or the welfare of your customers. Illicit alcohol, for example, can contain chemicals found in cleaning products, screen wash and antifreeze. Criminals also have no qualms about selling cigarettes or alcohol to children. Is this the type of individual you would like associated with your business?

Counterfeit products

The lead up to Christmas always sees the demand for spirits increase. This also increases the likelihood of counterfeit spirits finding their way into supply chains. These spirits often include hazardous contents which could harm your customers. If you are concerned there is a risk you may be offered, are receiving or holding counterfeit products, then there are some simple things you can look out for:

·     Check the labelling and packaging

·     Are the goods labelled for the UK market?

 – Do the goods bear UK fiscal marks or duty stamps?

 – Are labels straight and do they look and feel like they have been applied    professionally

 – Does the weight and size of the product appear the same as the genuine article?

– Are there spelling mistakes on the bottle or label?

·     Check the brand – have you ever heard of it? If not, what’s its history?

·     Check the product

Some counterfeit brands have very strong, unpleasant aromas, or material floating in the liquid. We advise you not to sample suspect spirits yourself by tasting or smelling them, as you could put your own health at risk. We suggest you get an expert to check.

The key thing is to think about your transactions and supply chains. Are they robust enough and are you confident that the product you’re buying is not illicit? You also need to consider whether there are any suspicious activities going on in your establishment that could lead to fraud, or cause your business to become involved with illicit goods? If the answer is yes, then you need to consider carefully whether you should go ahead with that transaction or allow that activity to continue.

How can HMRC help?

HMRC wants to work with you to help ensure illicit tobacco or alcohol are not sold in or directly outside your premises. We ask all publicans and pub staff to remain vigilant of this threat. If you have any information relating to illicit tobacco or alcohol being bought or sold, please report this to HMRC by calling the Customs Hotline, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 0800 595 000, quoting the word ‘BAKEWELL’.

You can also email customs.hotline@hmrc.gsi.gov.uk, or write to us at the following address:


HM Revenue & Customs,
Freepost NAT22785, Cardiff, CF14 5GX

For more information about HMRC, please visit our website at www.hmrc.gov.uk or follow us on Twitter @HMRCgovuk.

Alternatively, if you see anything suspicious please call Crime Stoppers on 0800 555 111.