The Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) has reiterated the criminal implications of retailers buying alcohol from rogue traders after HMRC rejected more than 1,300 applicants for the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS).

HMRC said the rejected businesses represented 17% of the 7,400 that applied for registration because they did not meet the scheme’s “fit and proper trader” requirements when it went live on 1 April.

The AWRS scheme makes it illegal for retailers to make alcohol purchases from a wholesaler without checking the seller is registered with HMRC.

HMRC warned that anyone not making the required checks by asking wholesalers for their Unique Reference Number and entering into an online look-up service at could be fined or sent to prison if the wholesaler had not been approved.

The FWD’s warning comes as retailers report some unregistered wholesalers are still trying to hoodwink them into buying from them.

The FWD said the applicants that had failed to gain registration must now stop selling alcohol.

Its wholesaler member were reporting an uplift in sales of beers and wines since AWRS’s introduction, the trade group said, as non-registered rejects went out of business.

James Bielby, chief executive of the FWD, said it was “vitally important” retailers understood it was their responsibility to check they were buying legally.

“AWRS is already having a positive effect and saving millions in taxpayers’ money as duty cheats are forced out of the market.”

C-Store understands a handful of wholesalers that learned late in the day they had failed their HMRC inspection will be allowed to sell through their stock until mid-May.

HMRC said any retailer buying from such sources must ensure they buy them “within that period for them to be classed as excluded sales and you should keep proof of this”.

Bielby said: “You must make the necessary check when you buy from a new source and keep a record of it. The look-up system is very easy to use and it will help prevent you falling prey to the criminals and being implicated in their fraudulent activity.”