ACS, FWD take up track and trace concerns with Exchequer Secretary

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The Association of Convenience Stores and the Federation of Wholesale Distributors have raised  serious concerns over a range of issues with the tobacco track and trace regulations.

In a letter to the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, the organisations said many issues with the scheme remain unaddressed despite flagging these to the HMRC following the roll out in May.

These include technical problems with the software required for the system, confusion over how tobacco theft is handled in the system, and significant operational difficulties experienced by wholesalers, the letter noted.

“The regulations have been in place for over six months now but there are still plenty of unanswered questions about how they work in practice, leaving retailers in fear of unwittingly being on the wrong side of the law, as well as bearing additional costs in the long term,” James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS, commented.

ACS and FWD also saught urgent clarification on the role of tobacco manufacturers in providing funding for the necessary equipment to comply with the regulations.

There is a lack of clarity over who is responsible for the maintenance, upkeep and replacement of hardware and software in the long term, they pointed out.

“We are particularly concerned that funding for the scheme appears in some cases only to cover implementation, rather than the full costs to a business of meeting their obligations. We’re have asked for assurance that HMRC that tobacco manufacturers will provide and maintain the necessary equipment over the entire lifetime of the regulations,” said James Bielby, chief executive of the FWD.

Bielby also raised the Brexit uncertainty over the EU-wide scheme.

“Wholesalers have also faced huge uncertainty around the future of the scheme after Brexit, and the next No Deal deadline coincides with deadlines for compensation claims, which adds to the confusion. The Government needs to answer the questions tobacco traders have as soon as possible as well as provide clarity about what will happen to the scheme after we leave the EU.”

The track and trace regulations stem from the EU Tobacco Products Directive 2014 which provides for EU-wide systems of traceability and security features for tobacco products to address the issue of illicit trade.