It appears HMRC is increasing its attempts to target warehouse keepers and hauliers who, unbeknown to them, are handling excise goods where the duty is unpaid.

News from Lloyds List quotes the UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) as saying that companies found guilty of storing goods where duty is unpaid face “financial ruin”.

What most stands out on this hardened line from HMRC is that even if the company is unaware that the duty is unpaid – they could be found guilty.

HMRC has had the powers to assess anyone for duty on illegally moved cargo from bonded movements and it has always involved being ‘aware or reasonably aware’.

However, HMRC is now increasing its manpower to investigate more excise goods in the supply chain. Alan Powell Associates, adviser to the UKWA states “As a result, we are now seeing third-party service providers, including hauliers, warehouse keepers and lessors of property, being penalised as a result of their involvement with businesses that have evaded duty on alcohol and have absconded – so called missing traders”.

The fines can be 100% of the duty evaded and any organisation in the supply of goods is at risk if goods in their care have been illicitly diverted from a bonded supply chain – even if that organisation is not responsible for the diversion. Chilling…

Any party in the overall handling will be classed as ‘contaminated’ and assessed for the duty. Already one storage company is facing a bill of £100,000 after HMRC inspectors found duty-unpaid alcohol at their site.

The advice from Powell “Always be wary and query the business need, checking with HMRC if possible. If in any doubt, do not become involved”.

Wise words indeed and a sobering (sorry) thought in this tough financial climate.