The Customs Hotline, set up to counter growing levels of duty fraud by illegal discount traders in alcohol, is receiving only a trickle of calls, according Rodney Hunt, chairman of the Federation of Wholesale Distributors.

Hunt, speaking at the 2005 Drinksummit in Stratford-upon-Avon, Warwickshire, said some businesses were selling major beer, lager and spirit brands at up to £4 a case below best cost prices.

He said these “ridiculously competitive” prices could only be achieved through duty or VAT fraud and that “only the most naive” would believe such trade was legal. Hunt warned that businesses operating within the law could be forced to shut because they are unable to compete on equal terms in their vicinity.

Commenting on HM Revenue and Customs’ “reluctance” to act against rogue traders, Hunt said reporting suspected instances of fraud would force the authorities to act. “We need a torrent of phone calls to the hotline,” he said.