The supply of tobacco products to retailers could be put in jeopardy unless HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) publishes the details of the application process for tobacco Track and Trace codes without delay, retailers fear.

With just over three months to go before the new Track and Trace regulations are enforced, concerns of a possible backlog of applications from retailers are growing.

The legislation is designed to curb the illicit trade by tracking tobacco products through the supply chain.

From 20 May retailers will need two unique codes in order to purchase tobacco legally, an ‘economic operator identifier code’ for their business and a ‘facility identifier code’ for each of their stores.

Retailers will need to apply to the UK’s new ID Issuer in order to receive the codes and it is understood that wholesalers and symbol groups will also be able to apply for codes on their behalf.

Last week HMRC had told Convenience Store that an announcement on its chosen supplier to act as the UK’s ID Issuer would be made by 1 February 2019.

However, HMRC has still not published any details on who the ID issuer was, or how and when retailers would be able to start applying.

HMRC had also previously estimated that retailers would be issued with their codes within two days of applying.

An HMRC spokesperson said: “A key requirement for securing the contract is the ability of the provider to issue operator codes within sufficient time for retailers to meet the requirements.

“HMRC has chosen a preferred provider and we expect the final contract clarification to conclude shortly. We will work with the provider to ensure that systems will be available for testing ahead of the 20 May 2019 deadline.”

ACS chief executive James Lowman said: “We have repeatedly called on HMRC to publish details of how retailers can get the codes they need to comply with the regulations, as problems with this process could lead to retailers not getting codes in time, and subsequently not being able to purchase tobacco products legitimately through no fault of their own.

“We’re now less than four months away and there is still no date in sight for the application process to go live. HMRC must provide clarity on the code application process as soon as possible.”

Sid Sidhu, owner of Budgens Kenilworth, Warwickshire said he was growing “increasingly concerned,” about the lack of official information. “No-one really seems to know what’s actually going to happen, which with just over three months to go is a real worry.

“I’ve had conversations with two tobacco companies and clearly they are in the dark as much as we are as they both told me different things! I don’t buy HMRC’s old estimation of it taking just two days to receive the codes. If everyone rushes to apply at the same time there’s bound to be a backlog and mistakes will be made.

“Tobacco is still a key category and vital footfall driver for many stores and this has the potential to cause real problems.”

Mark Yexley, head of communications at JTI said the tobacco company would shortly be launching a dedicated microsite where retailers and wholesalers would be able to find “a host of information on the legislation and how best to prepare.”

“JTI is committed to helping retailers and wholesalers throughout the transition to Track and Trace, ensuring timescales are met and continuity of supply is maintained,” he added.