The Local Government Association (LGA) warning follows recent council seizures of counterfeit vodka laced with chemicals found in cleaning products and paint solvent.

Council trading standards teams are also warning sellers of illegal alcohol they face confiscation of their stock, prosecution and being stripped of any relevant licences after a series of raids on rogue premises in the run-up to New Year’s Eve.

As partygoers stock up on alcohol at home and attend big celebrations in towns and city centres, councils are issuing safety advice to help people avoid harm from dangerous alcohol containing lethal chemicals such as chloroform, which can induce comas, and high levels of methanol – a key ingredient in anti-freeze.

Drinking the bogus booze can lead to vomiting, permanent blindness, kidney or liver problems and, in extreme cases, death.

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, is urging shoppers to look out for telltale signs that bottles are fake. These include unfamiliar brand names, crooked labels, spelling mistakes, and very low prices which are “too good to be true”.

People being served vodka in pubs and clubs should also check the smell – fake vodka will often smell of nail varnish.

Warnings about illegal booze and related seizures following raids by Trading Standards include:

Halton Borough Council prosecuted a taxi driver who had his vehicle seized and was given a suspended sentence after counterfeit vodka was found in his taxi. A total of 26 litres of fake vodka – found to be unfit for human consumption – and 108 bottles of illicit wine were seized following a search of his personal vehicle and a storage unit.

Cheshire East Council’s trading standards team seized 800 bottles of suspected fake vodka during raids at shops and other premises in Crewe, during a crackdown on illegal sellers.

Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards teams seized bottles of fake Glen’s Vodka from an off-licence in Burton.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Trading Standards officers helped seize 3,570 litres of beers, wines and spirits – most believed to be counterfeit – from 20 premises as part of an operation with police and HM Revenue and Customs.

Brighton and Hove City Council imposed licensing restrictions on a pub in Brighton where alcohol believed to be fake and smuggled was found on the premises. More than 170 bottles were seized.

Not only does fake booze pose a severe health risk, alcohol fraud is reported to cost the UK around £1 billion a year. Because they don’t pay tax, fraudsters can undercut legitimate companies.

Retailers selling illegal alcohol could lose their licence, be fined up to £5,000, be jailed for up to 10 years, get a criminal record, ruin their reputation, seriously harm their customers’ health and be liable for the consequences.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“New Year’s Eve is the biggest drinking night of the year but people need to avoid suspiciously cheap, fake alcohol at all costs because it could seriously harm your health, and even kill you.

“Counterfeit alcohol also harms legitimate traders and threatens livelihoods, with the black market trade helping to fund organised criminal gangs.

“Council trading standards teams have been cracking down on businesses selling fake alcohol and rogue sellers should think twice about stocking these dangerous drinks as we will always seek to prosecute irresponsible traders.

“Anyone suspicious about a supplier or who thinks they may have bought an alcoholic drink which may not be legitimate, should contact their local council.”

Anyone who thinks they have consumed fake alcohol should seek medical advice. The incident should also be reported to the local environmental health officer, by calling Citizens Advice on 03454 04 05 06, or the Customs Hotline on 0800 59 5000.

Case Studies

Cheshire East Council seized 800 bottles of suspected fake vodka during raids on shops and other premises in Crewe during a crackdown on illegal sellers.

In a prosecution brought by Halton Borough Council, a taxi driver had his vehicle seized and was given a suspended sentence after counterfeit vodka was found in his taxi. A total of 26 litres of fake vodka – found to be unfit for human consumption – and 108 bottles of illicit wine were seized following a search of a storage unit.

Staffordshire County Council’s trading standards teams seized a haul of fake Glen’s Vodka from an off-licence in Burton.

Lincolnshire County Council’s Trading Standards officers helped seize 3,570 litres of beers, wines and spirits – most believed to be counterfeit – from 20 premises as part of an operation with police and HM Revenue and Customs.

Brighton and Hove City Council imposed licensing restrictions on a pub in Brighton where alcohol believed to be fake and smuggled was found on the premises. More than 170 bottles were seized.