The UK government has today unveiled a new duty stamp scheme in an attempt to tackle alcohol fraud.

HM Revenue & Customs today (23 February) unveiled the stamps, which will be mandatory on 35cl or higher bottles of spirits 30% ABV or more for the UK market. The stamp will indicate that duty has been, or will be, paid on the bottle.

"HMRC and industry representatives have worked closely on implementation of duty stamps and it is now vital that anyone who produces, stores or supplies spirits is fully prepared for 1 October when all qualifying bottles released onto the UK market must be stamped," HMRC said.

"Businesses should be considering now whether they need to be registered, and if so, they should apply immediately in order to give themselves a chance of being ready in time."

"Alcohol fraud is at an unacceptable level in the UK and that is why the Government has taken steps to tackle the problem," said John Healey, HM Treasury Financial Secretary.

"The scheme is central to the Government's strategy to tackle alcohol fraud and I believe its introduction is a positive and significant move to combat those criminal organisations that undermine legitimate business."

A microsite, www.ukdutystamps.info has been developed to give guidance on the scheme as well as providing direct links to the registration pages on the HMRC website where online registration is available.

The stamps are available in two formats: a stamp incorporated in bottle labels bearing a trademark, and a self-adhesive stamp available for direct application by hand or by machinery.

The scheme will be supported by a drive by HMRC officers to crack down on alcohol fraud.

The trade has been vocal in its opposition to the move since it was first suggested. When contacted by just-drinks today, Jeremy Beadles, chief executive of the WSTA, said: "We never wanted the Duty Stamp Scheme and we opposed its introduction. We don't believe that it will achieve any significant reductions in levels of fraud, but it will add significant costs and administrative burdens. It is also a barrier to trade.

"However, it could have been worse, the WSTA and an alliance of trade associations did manage to secure considerable savings of approximately GBP67m for the sector by securing changes to the initial Government proposals."