Twenty anonymised submissions to the government’s T&T consultation were released exclusively to betterRetailing by HMRC. In the initial legislation draft, a store had to make three breaches of T&T in 12 months to lose the codes required to purchase and sell tobacco.
Several manufacturers called for the time period to be extended, claiming a lack of resources would prevent any retailer from being caught three times in a year. “Even in very active trading standards departments, three seizures in 12 months will never occur,” wrote one manufacturer. Following the comments, the time period was doubled to two years.
Tobacco still being sold to non-track and trace-ready stores
HMRC is also considering further punishments, and potentially criminal convictions for non-compliant stores. One industry player said it was ‘comforted’ by “assurances from HMRC in recent meetings that elements of the regulations relating to sanctions and enforcement will be revisited and enhanced by the end of the transition phase in May 2020”.
Oppositely, British American Tobacco (BAT) described the three-strike ban as ‘disproportionate’ and lobbied for changes that would make it easier for illicit sellers to continue selling tobacco. BAT unsuccessfully asked the government to remove bans on those with unspent convictions for Customs and Excise acts offences, and those fined more than £10,000 for Customs and Excise breaches, from buying or selling tobacco. BAT accused HMRC of “incorrectly seeking to extend the penalties which can be imposed” for customs offences.
How will track and trace affect independent retailers?
BAT responded to betterRetailing that it “fully supports” government initiatives to tackle illicit tobacco. “We entirely agree that retailers should have their economic operator codes deactivated if they are found to be habitually selling black market tobacco. However, we believe that the current draft regulation would not accurately target those retailers which the proposed legislation is aimed at,” said a spokesperson for the company.