Duty hikes for high-strength lagers could lead to a surge in alcohol duty fraud, wholesalers have cautioned.

Their warning came after the government revealed that it was to raise the duty on beers above 7.5% abv as it sought to "tackle problem drinking without unfairly penalising responsible drinkers".

Duty on beers below 2.8% abv will be cut, while that on spirits will not be touched.

Wholesalers have slammed the move, fearing that price increases on strong beers would lead to further increases in duty fraud.

Parfetts managing director Steve Parfett said: "Super-strength beers have been the target of duty fraudsters for years and this latest move will only increase the illicit trade. The independent sector has a large share in this market and it is the small shops that will lose business to unscrupulous traders."

HM Revenue and Customs would need to make the most of its recently bolstered powers and extra resources to crack down on duty fraud in order to nip illicit activity in the bud, Parfett added.

"Unless HMRC's powers take immediate and drastic effect, all that will happen is a profit boost for criminal elements," he said.