The high levels of confusion which still surround the Track and Trace regulations for tobacco products are acting as a “barrier to compliance” for retailers and wholesalers, the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and Federation of Wholesale Distributors (FWD) claim.
In a letter to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, the ACS and FWD have called for urgent answers to a number of “serious concerns” over a range of issues that “remain unaddressed” since the introduction of the Track and Trace legislation in May.
The issues, raised with HMRC in a letter to officials on 30 September which has still not been answered, include a range of technical problems with the software required for the system, confusion over how tobacco theft is handled in the system, and significant operational difficulties experienced by wholesalers.
ACS and FWD are also seeking urgent clarification on the role of tobacco manufacturers in providing funding for the necessary equipment to comply with the regulations, citing concerns from members about the lack of clarity over who is responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and replacement of hardware and software in the long term.
ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “The introduction of track and trace regulations has required retailers to make significant operational changes, and it has been an ongoing battle for our members against limited and unclear information from the government and the bodies appointed to manage the scheme, and against incomplete and inadequate systems.
“The regulations have been in place for over six months now but there are still plenty of unanswered questions about how they work in practice, leaving retailers in fear of unwittingly being on the wrong side of the law, as well as bearing additional costs in the long term. We need clarity from government as soon as possible.”
FWD chief executive James Bielby said: “Wholesalers have installed equipment, trained staff and helped tobacco retailers register, but there has been very little clarity about how the technical and logistical problems will be addressed, as well as the process for compensation for implementing track and trace.
“Wholesalers have also faced huge uncertainty around the future of the scheme after Brexit and the next No Deal deadline coincides with deadlines for compensation claims, which adds to the confusion.
“The government needs to answer the questions tobacco traders have as soon as possible as well as provide clarity about what will happen to the scheme after we leave the EU.
“We are particularly concerned that funding for the scheme appears in some cases only to cover implementation, rather than the full costs to a business of meeting their obligations.
“We’re have asked for assurance that HMRC that tobacco manufacturers will provide and maintain the necessary equipment over the entire lifetime of the regulations.”
The track and trace regulations introduced in May require all retailers who sell tobacco to apply for both economic operator and facility identifier codes.
ACS guidance on Track and Trace can be seen here