Dodgy goods mean duff returns

It's time to adopt duty stamps for beer and other goods if we're to beat off-licence fraudsters

I 've been talking to a lot of people lately about how duty fraud has changed (and will continue to change) the way that we do business. It seems that, at the moment, the most favoured dodgy practice is fake duty drawback, where the fraudster falsely states that the goods have been exported.

Exploiting the difference in duty between the UK and the rest of the EU, the fraudster can claim back UK duty, claiming to pay duty at the point of entry in mainland Europe, but the goods haven't actually gone anywhere.

So then one is left with a pile of money from falsely claiming the UK duty back, and a few pallets of dodgy beer. It's the drinks industry's equivalent of VAT ­carouselling - appearing to move goods around the EU and falsely claiming the VAT back.


beer then has to be disposed of. It can be knocked out on the cheap,

offie-to-offie from the back of a

van, or it might even go back into the "legitimate" market (except of course, it's not legitimate, but bent as anything). This is particularly rewarding, as then the fraudster gets to sell the beer at near market price, and gets to keep the falsely-acquired duty.

So what are the knock-ons for those who run shops? Well, it depends on your scruples really. Undoubtedly there are those who buy dodgy stock and sell it at full price. There are others who buy stock and sell it cheaper than their immediate competitors. This is particularly easy to do

as consumers don't really have a clear idea of what a case of lager should really cost - you can go to the supermarket and get a couple of slabs of tinnies for £20 almost everywhere, so it's no wonder people don't blink when they can buy it in the corner shop, car boot sale, pub car park, wherever, for a bit cheaper.

Then there are the various teams of sales reps who appear unannounced on the shop floor. They have a few cases of beer/cider/wine in their car at a "special price today", and have some glassware or other freebies to throw in. I've personally checked

credentials of some (they were legit), and others have nipped to the car to get some ID, never to return (more "leg it " than legit in that case). Ditto the phone calls

offering free glassware, free delivery, cheap stock

- but only if you order today . I understand

it's a tough market, but these practices all serve to make it easier for dodgy stock to move into the legitimate market.

If this all sounds a bit hysterical, look at it the other way round.

Revenue & Customs

is now imposing such a rigo rous paper trail for exports that for our sister company, Beer Paradise, the process of exporting beers

bought from a third party (and we're talking mixed pallets of specialist beers rather than containers of lager) has become impossible. It involves getting duty payment certificates from all suppliers

- a practice

nobody really likes

because it involves endless paper shuffling

and is frankly intrusive and time-consuming. So here's a thought; duty stamps have been implemented in the UK for spirits

and all UK tobacco is similarly marked. Isn't it time to adopt the same system for any other duty-paid goods, either by physically marking the stock, or by having a duty stamp attached to the invoice?

There needs to be a way to tell good from bad, whether we're looking at stock, retailers or wholesalers.

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