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Outputs for March 2019 to April 2020

The government has had a comprehensive strategy to tackle illicit tobacco since 2000.

This has been highly effective in reducing the illicit market share from 21.7% in 2005 to 2006 to 16.6% in 2019 to 2020 for both cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. In the same period, the revenue lost has reduced from £2.7 billion to £2.3 billion.

HMRC estimates the size of the illicit market using tax gap data which is reported annually, each autumn.

For more details, read about Excise (including alcohol tobacco and oils) in Measuring tax gaps 2021 edition: Tax gap estimates for 2019 to 2020.

Recognizing that this remains a significant problem, to build on this success HMRC and UK Border Force published a refreshed strategy for tackling tobacco smuggling in March 2015. The strategy explains how we will continue to catch and punish those in the illicit tobacco trade.

For more details, read Tackling illicit tobacco: from leaf to light.

This report sets out tobacco strategy outputs delivered for 2019 to 2020.

Cigarette seizures

These are the seizures for April 2019 to March 2020.

HMRC Overseas Border Force HMRC Inland Totals
Volume (sticks) 575 million 524.1 million 69.5 million 1.168 billion
Revenue value (£) 215.6 million 196.6 million 260.7 million 438.2 million

case studies

The ringleader of a smuggling gang caught with more than nine million illegal cigarettes and £356,185 in cash has been jailed for 38 months.

A lorry driver, who was caught smuggling almost ten million illegal cigarettes disguised as frozen chickens, has been jailed for 4 years.

Hand-rolling tobacco seizures

These are the seizures for April 2019 to March 2020.

HMRC Overseas Border Force HMRC Inland Totals
Volume (kilograms) 0 115,782 35,901 151,683
Revenue value (£) 0 35.2 million 10.9 million 46.1 million

case studies

A jobless Londoner who enjoyed a sociable lifestyle of golf and exotic holidays by dodging tax on smuggled tobacco has been jailed for 46 months.

A haulage company boss who was caught smuggling 2,000 kilos of hand-rolling tobacco into the UK evading £442,360 in duty, has been jailed for 18 months after an HMRC investigation.

criminal investigations

April 2019 to March 2020
arrests 215
Positive Charging Decisions 203
Convictions 261

During the life of a prosecution case a decision is made as to whether to charge a suspect or not.

Convictions do not necessarily relate to the prosecutions started in this period, since outcomes to case will depend on the time taken for them to be processed through the judicial system.

civil penalties

In addition to criminal prosecutions, HMRC uses a range of sanctions and penalties to improve compliance by:

  • penalizing anyone handling illicit tobacco products
  • recovering unpaid duty on seizures made at the border and inland

Tobacco products duty assessments

April 2019 to March 2020
Number of assessments for tobacco products duty issued 850
Value of products tobacco duty assessments issued £41,604,559

Wrongdoing penalties

April 2019 to March 2020
Number of Excise wrongdoing penalties issued 2,015
Value of Excise wrongdoing penalties issued £9,245,154

HMRC multi-agency events

HMRC maintains a good working relationship with a variety of partner agencies to combat the illicit tobacco trade, including local authority trading standards teams, the police and other government departments.

case studies

In a scam involving three members of the same family Toy train tobacco fraudsters were sentenced.

A gang of 9 men who flooded Kent with illegal cigarettes was jailed for more than 16 years.

Help HMRC tackle tobacco smuggling

To report any kind of excise fraud or tax evasion you can contact HMRC with the information, in confidence.

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