The first registration numbers for alcohol wholesalers under the new Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) have been issued by HM Revenue and Customs.

However, retailers can continue to buy from wholesalers who have not received their number until the AWRS comes into effect in April 2017.

From that date retailers must only buy from wholesalers who are included in the AWRS list of approved wholesalers. They will be able to check their source is registered via a simple online look-up service.

Federation of Wholesale Distributors chief executive James Bielby said: “HMRC is inspecting a large number of businesses and can’t issue all its approvals at once so while some businesses will have received theirs it doesn’t mean that those who haven’t are not legitimate.

“To make sure you’re trading within the law you should ask your wholesaler if they have applied for registration under AWRS. Any wholesaler who hasn’t submitted an application is trading illegally.”

The registration scheme is intended to reduce the amount of duty-evaded beer, wine and spirits sold in the UK, which costs the taxpayer £1.2bn a year.