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ACS has produced a best practice guide for retailers on the Alcohol Wholesaler Registration
Scheme (AWRS).

From 1 April 2017, if you buy alcohol from a UK wholesaler, you’ll need to check that whoever you buy from is registered with HMRC and has an AWRS Unique Reference Number (URN).

If you buy alcohol from a non-registered wholesaler, you may be liable to a criminal or civil penalty, your alcohol may be seized, or you could lose your alcohol licence.

How to check if a wholesaler is registered?
Before April 2017
Before April 2017, we recommend that you ask your wholesaler(s) if they have applied for HMRC registration, but bear in mind that they may not have their registration number yet as they don’t need to use it until April 2017. We also recommend you review your processes and supply chains to make sure that you are only sourcing legitimate alcohol.

After April 2017
You can check if your wholesaler is registered by following the three steps below.

Step 1 – Use online look up service
You will be able to use an online look-up service to check if your wholesaler is registered. This will be available on HMRC’s website from 1 April 2017.

Step 2 – Check unique reference number
You will find the AWRS URN on wholesaler invoices from 1 April 2017. Retailers will be able to enter the AWRS URN of the wholesaler and the look up service will confirm whether that wholesaler is approved.

The format for the URN will be made up of four alpha characters and 11 numeric characters, such as: XXAW00000123456.

If a wholesaler has been approved, but has since ceased trading, the look-up will return the dates that the wholesaler was approved.

Step 3 – Due diligence and record keeping
You must be able to demonstrate to HMRC that you requested a wholesaler’s URN and checked its authenticity. You can do this by printing off the webpage after checking your wholesaler’s URN.

HMRC have not prescribed any additional record-keeping requirements for retailers who are not wholesalers. However, to prove you have checked your wholesalers’ URN, we recommend you keep record of checks you perform on the online look-up service for a similar period to your tax returns (five years).

The full guide can be downloaded here.