The Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS)
Find out if you need to register to sell alcohol to another business.
If you sell alcohol to another business you may need to apply to register for the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration Scheme (AWRS). HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) introduced the scheme to tackle alcohol fraud.
From 1 April 2017 if you buy alcohol to sell from a UK wholesaler, you’ll need to check that the wholesaler has registered with HMRC and has a AWRS Unique Reference Number (URN). Trade buyers and wholesalers will be able to use an online look-up service of approved wholesalers to check that the wholesalers you buy from are registered.
You’ll face penalties if you trade without approval.
When you need to apply
You’ll need to apply for AWRS if all the following apply:
- your business sells, or arranges the sale of alcohol, and has an establishment in the UK
- sales made at, or after, the point where Excise Duty is due
- any sales to other businesses are made for onward sale or supply
Types of business that need to register
All businesses that supply alcohol to other businesses for resale need to apply. This includes:
- cash and carries
- breweries and microbreweries
- wine producers, vineyards
- spirit producers
- cider producers who make more than 70 hectolitres of cider a year
- wine importers
- retailers who make regular sales to other businesses
- charities, non-profit organisations and educational establishments that produce and/or supply alcohol to other businesses for resale
- general wholesalers selling alcohol
- specialist wine wholesalers
Excise Notice 2002 section 3 has more information about the scheme and types of businesses likely to be affected.
Businesses already operating in alcohol wholesale prior to 1 April 2016
You can register as a:
- limited company
- sole trader/self-employed
- business partnership
- limited liability partnership
- limited partnership
Businesses new to alcohol wholesaling from 1 April 2016
You can also register as any of the above business types.
However, if you work for yourself you must first have registered for Self Assessment and enrolled for the online service.
Your agent or accountant will still be able to submit your Self Assessment Return if you have authorised them to do so.
Once registered for Self Assessment, you can then apply for registration in AWRS. You must not begin trading in alcohol wholesaling until approval is given.
Exclusions to the scheme
You don’t need to register for AWRS if you’re a trader who’s mainly a retailer and you’re covered by the exemption. This exemption applies if you’re an authorised retailer, with a retail licence, who doesn’t set out to make sales of alcohol to other businesses and you:
- only make wholesale sales that take place unintentionally in the course of your retail activity and without your prior knowledge (like unplanned sales through a supermarket checkout)
- knowingly make wholesale sales but they’re uninvited by you and only on an exceptional basis (perhaps the village fete once a year)
This can happen if you don’t know the buyer and the only indication you might have that the purchase is being made for commercial purposes is if a tax invoice is requested.
These are known as ‘incidental sales’.
Corporate group sales
Wholesale sales of alcohol between members of the same corporate group are excluded from the scheme. There’s no need to register for AWRS.
If wholesale sales are made outside of the corporate group, the companies involved will need to register.
If more than one company from the same group makes wholesale sales, those companies can apply for group AWRS registration.
Excise Notice 2002 section 14 gives further information about group registrations.
Apply for registration
If you were already operating in alcohol wholesaling prior to 1 April 2016 you should have already applied online for registration. If you didn’t, then you must apply now.
If you intend to start wholesaling in alcohol you must apply for registration at least 45 days before you intend to trade. You must wait until you get approval from HMRC before you start trading.
If your application is being processed
You can make any necessary changes or correct errors in the information you supplied. You should do this as soon as possible, following the instructions for ‘making changes’.
If you’ve been approved by HMRC and received your AWRS URN
You’ll need to tell HMRC about any changes to your details as soon as possible.
HMRC must be notified of some changes no later than 14 days from the date of change, including changes to:
- phone numbers
- email address
- trading name
- VAT number
Tell HMRC about any change of address for your principal place of business or to any of your trading premises before you use the new premises.
Excise Notice 2002 paragraph 10.4 has a full list of changes and the circumstances where you need to immediately inform HMRC.
Cancelling or withdrawing your registration
If your AWRS application has been approved by HMRC but you decide to cancel it, you must let us know at least 30 days before the date you intend to stop trading in alcohol.
You should make arrangements to dispose of any wholesale alcohol stock before this date.
If your application hasn’t been approved you can withdraw an application where you’ve, for example:
- applied in error
- signed up as the wrong business type
- stopped trading
Sign in to the service to cancel or withdraw your AWRS registration.
New criminal and civil sanctions have been introduced for both wholesalers and trade buyers found buying alcohol from non-registered wholesalers.
wholesalers trading without having submitted their application to HMRC came into force from 1 April 2016
trade buyers who buy alcohol from unregistered wholesalers will start from 1 April 2017
Any alcohol found on the premises of unregistered businesses may be seized, whether or not the duty has been paid.
Businesses will have a similar right to review and appeal as they do for other HMRC regimes for any civil penalties raised, or decisions related to their approval.
Published: 23 March 2015
Updated: 11 October 2016
- As a result of feedback this guidance has been reformatted to make it easier to follow.
- This guidance has been updated to reflect changes to registration information.
- Details about how to apply for registration have been added to this page.
- Section 'When to apply for registration' has been updated to remind customers about registering for a Government Gateway ID for Self Assessment online.
- This guidance has been updated to include information about how to apply for AWRS from 1 January 2016
- This guide has been updated to reflect changes to the dates you should register for the Alcohol Wholsaler Registration Scheme (AWRS) and when penalties come in to effect.
- Launch of AWRS has been postponed until 1 January 2016
- First published.