The British Beer & Pub Association is lobbying hard to prevent the introduction of duty stamps on beer cans and bottles in the UK. 

The measure, which has been proposed by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC), only needs ministerial approval to go ahead. Legal bottles of spirits already carry duty stamps in the UK.

HMRC believes that extending this to beer will reduce fraud and tax evasion amid figures that suggest one tenth of all beer sold in the UK is illicit. 

It is possible that the measure could be introduced within a few months, following the upcoming UK Budget for 2012-13. Faced with this prospect, the British Beer & Pub Association (BBPA) has stepped up its public opposition to duty stamps on beer.

"This would be totally at odds with the Government's objective of reducing regulatory burdens on business," said the trade body's CEO, Brigid Simmonds, yesterday (22 February). "HMRC already has powers available to tackle fraud, and brewers have themselves put a lot of effort into providing detailed data on beer movements."

In a report published yesterday, HMRC cut its estimated cost of beer duty fraud in the UK by GBP300m. It estimates that fraud cost the Government GBP500m in revenue in the 2009-10 tax year, versus an estimated GBP800m previously.

The BBPA argues that the latest estimate is still too high and that, in any case, fraud is being propelled by high excise tax rates in the UK. "Britain levies 40% of the entire EU beer duty bill," said Simmonds, calling the spate of tax rises in recent years "eye-watering".

The Government is committed to increasing duty tax on alcoholic drinks by two percentage points above inflation every year up to, and including, the 2014-15 tax year. The BBPA called for a freeze in the upcoming UK Budget announcement.