How to have a nose for fake alcohol

By Poppleston Allen

- Last updated on GMT

Suspicious mind: Sellers of alcohol will have to be registered with HMRC from April so make sure they are
Suspicious mind: Sellers of alcohol will have to be registered with HMRC from April so make sure they are

Related tags: Sales, Hmrc

Our legal experts give advice on how to spot when there might be something amiss with a new drink you're being offered.

Often, if a deal is too good to be true, then it is one to be avoided.

Unfortunately, operators and licensed premises are still at risk of being conned into purchasing and subsequently selling counterfeit alcohol.

There are serious consequences if operators are found in possession of fake alcohol. The secretary of state’s guidance says that where a review of a premises’ licence arises in connection with the sale of ‘smuggled’ alcohol, revocation of the premises’ licence, “even in the first instance – should be seriously considered”. However, ultimately, the sale of counterfeit alcohol, which results in death, could mean a criminal prosecution for an individual or even a company.

It is important that operators and licensed premises protect their customers and their livelihoods by employing proper systems and training to avoid putting lives and their
premises’ licence at risk.

The checklist below is not exhaustive, but it identifies some of the things operators should consider incorporating in their systems and training, to help avoid the unscrupulous few selling fake alcohol:

  • Avoid purchasing alcohol from the back of a ‘white van’, especially if the seller arrives unannounced or makes you an offer too good to be true.
  • All purchases should be made from a reputable wholesaler.
  • From 1 April 2017, operators of licensed premises are under a legal duty to make sure any wholesalers they buy from are registered with HMRC. HMRC will be introducing an online service for these checks. In the meantime do your own checks with the wholesaler.
  • Ensure that a valid, printed VAT receipt is obtained itemising the delivery and showing the wholesaler’s details, landline, address, etc;
  • Counterfeit alcohol is often in the form of spirits. Any bottles of spirits 35cl or larger and 30% ABV must show a duty stamp, either as a stamp or embossment in the bottle.
  • If bottles do not have sealed caps then do not buy or sell them.
  • Check the validity of any bar codes found on bottles.
  • Check the packaging for incorrect information or spelling mistakes – if in doubt, do not purchase or sell it.
  • Check the contents of the bottle to identify any layering, unusual colouring or particles. If you have your suspicions, then it is likely the alcohol is counterfeit.
  • Smell the liquid to identify whether there is any essence of petrol, antifreeze, chemicals, etc.

If you have any doubts about a wholesaler, the contents of a delivery or a stock of alcohol then do not turn a blind eye. Ensure that you contact and notify the police or your local trading standards officer.

Related topics: Licensing law

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