HMRC has urged alcohol wholesalers to start preparing to apply for the new Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme.

The scheme aims to tackle the £1.3bn a year lost to alcohol duty fraud by forcing wholesalers who trade illegally out of business.

Wholesalers must apply for approval with HMRC between 1 October and 31 December this year.

Laura Pollard, HMRC’s deputy director for alcohol and tobacco, said: “The scheme will ensure all businesses are competing on a level playing field.

“Hardworking businesses that follow the rules will no longer lose out to criminals dealing in illicit alcohol.

“Applying will not be difficult and businesses can make it even easier by getting ready. Once they have applied, we will assess their application and let them know if they are approved.”

Under the scheme, retailers will have to buy from approved wholesalers from April 2017. HMRC will publish details of approved wholesalers online.

Wholesalers who apply for approval will be assessed by HMRC to ensure they are ‘fit and proper’, which will involve considering factors like connections to convicted alcohol fraudsters, unsatisfactory due diligence procedures to protect themselves from illicit supply-chains and poor record keeping.

Wholesalers that fail the ‘fit and proper’ test will not be allowed to trade in alcohol and will face hefty fines if they continue.

As part of the application process, businesses will need to provide information such as types of customer, products sold, premises used and details of their main suppliers.

Businesses that sell alcohol to other businesses will need to apply. Businesses that only sell to consumers will not.