Employers whose staff misuse company cars and vans to buy cheap drink and cigarettes abroad could find their vehicles confiscated if drivers import large quantities and are suspected of planning to illegally sell them. Already at least one firm has suffered as a result.
A financial services company is already believed to have lost a vehicle in February when one of its drivers was found with a large quantity of tobacco in his vehicle. The duty payable was £4,000, but the driver did not pay, and the company vehicle was subsequently confiscated, with Customs effectively seizing an asset worth at least three times the level of duty.
Although rental and leasing companies have an arrangement allowing the return of confiscated vehicles to them at the first offence, there is no such arrangement for fleets.
Tony Leigh, chairman of the Association of Car Fleet Operators, said: 'The fleet manager has been trying to obtain return of his company's car since February. The car itself is worth far more than the excise duty.
'But as far as Customs is concerned, it is the company's fault for allowing the driver to take the car overseas and not ensuring he did not break guidelines for importing goods on which duty was levied.
'How on earth are we, as fleet managers, to ensure that our drivers won't attempt to bring excess booze or cigarettes back into the UK?'
European regulations should mean there are no limits for the amount of alcohol and tobacco for personal use to be brought into the country, but officials can take action when they believe the driver has so much he or she might be trading.
Guidelines for personal use of alcohol, for example, are 90 litres of wine, 110 litres of beer and 10 litres of spirit.
A spokesman for Customs & Excise said: 'With an estimated £2.5 billion in revenue being drained from the public purse each year by tobacco smugglers alone and a further £215 million lost through alcohol smuggling, the problem of excise fraud is a real one and one which both the Government and ourselves are determined to crack down on.
'There is nothing wrong with bringing these goods back into the UK, but they must be for the personal use of the traveller who is bringing them into the country.'