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Guidance on Claiming Research and Development (R&D) Tax Reliefs

The UK Government, with its strong inclination towards fostering innovation, offers lucrative tax incentives to businesses that engage in research and development (R&D) projects in science and technology. For businesses not already capitalising on these reliefs, understanding them can unlock significant savings, improving cash flow and encouraging further investment in innovation.

In this guide, we’ll demystify the process and provide a broad overview of the R&D tax relief scheme, helping you determine if your business is eligible and understand the claiming process.

What are R&D Tax Reliefs?

At its core, R&D tax reliefs allow companies to reduce their Corporation Tax or claim cash credits based on their R&D expenses. The UK provides two main R&D reliefs:

  • SME R&D Relief

Suitable for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with <500 staff, <100 million euros turnover, or <86 million euros balance sheet. For year ends starting on or after the 1st of April 2023, businesses can deduct an extra 86% of their qualifying costs from their yearly profit, alongside the standard 100% deduction, totalling a 186% deduction. Loss-making firms can also get a tax credit of up to 10% of the loss. 

  • RDEC (Research and Development Expenditure Credit)

For larger companies and SMEs that have been subcontracted R&D work by a large company. The credit rate is 13% for expenses from 1 April 2020-1 March 2023 and 20% from 1 April 2023 onwards.

Find more information on converting tax relief into payable tax credits here.

Are You Eligible?

The notion of R&D means more than just white-lab-coat activities. Anything from developing new processes, products, or services to modifying existing ones can qualify if they tackle scientific or technological uncertainties.

Your UK-based limited company can claim R&D tax reliefs if: 

  • It incurs R&D expenses linked to your trade or potential trade. 
  • The project aims for scientific or technological advancement.

The Project

To claim R&D tax relief, simply stating you’ve done a project isn’t enough. It must meet HMRC’s R&D definitions, and you’ll need to demonstrate how the project covers:

  1. Advances in the Field: Your project should aim for an overall sector advancement, not just something new for your business. If another company has developed something similar but it’s not public knowledge, it can still count as an ‘advance’.
  2. Scientific or Technological Uncertainty: Your project must tackle issues that aren’t easily solvable by experts in the field. Readily available or easy solutions don’t qualify.
  3. Efforts to Overcome Uncertainty: Detail your research, tests, and efforts to address challenges, highlighting both successes and setbacks and showing genuine efforts to resolve challenges.
  4. Why Experts Couldn’t Solve It: Showcase that even seasoned professionals found the issues complex. Reference others’ failed attempts and your team’s expertise.

Qualifying Costs

Not all expenses qualify for R&D tax reliefs. Here’s a quick run-through of what generally qualifies:

  • Direct Staff Costs: Salaries, wages, and some other related costs of employees involved in R&D activities.
  • Externally Provided Workers: Costs associated with hiring freelancers, staff providers, or external agencies for R&D.
  • Subcontracted R&D Expenditure: Only for SMEs, with restrictions if the work is subcontracted to connected parties.
  • Consumables: Materials and utilities consumed directly in the R&D process.
  • Software: Software used exclusively in R&D activities.

Capital expenditure, travel, rent, and rates typically don’t qualify, so it’s important to consider what does and doesn’t qualify as an eligible R&D expense.

Find out more about what you can and can’t claim here.

Making a Claim

Here’s a step-by-step guide to making an R&D tax relief claim:

  • Identify R&D Projects: Understand which of your projects sought to achieve an advance in science or technology and faced uncertainties that competent professionals couldn’t resolve easily.
  • Calculate Expenditure: Tally up all the qualifying costs associated with those projects during the tax year.
  • Documentation: Maintain a robust documentation process. From project reports to financial records, these documents can be invaluable if HMRC wishes to review your claim.
  • Submit Your Claim: R&D tax relief claims are made in your Corporation Tax Return or amended return. Make sure to complete the full R&D section, including detailed project narratives, and annex the required CT600L supplementary pages. 
  • Deadline: You have two years from the end of the accounting period in which the R&D expenditure occurred to make your claim.

Common Pitfalls and How to Avoid Them

  • Under-claiming: Many companies either overlook or are unaware of the full range of costs that can qualify. Regularly review potential R&D activities and check what’s claimable.
  • Poor Record-Keeping: A lack of evidence or poor documentation can jeopardise your claim. Implement a system to document all R&D activities, decisions, and expenditures.
  • Not Meeting the Definition: Remember, it’s not enough for a project to be innovative. It must seek scientific or technological advancement and tackle uncertainties. Ensure that your project documentation clearly articulates this.

Potential to Propel Innovation

R&D tax reliefs are not just for tech giants or pharmaceutical titans. They cater to businesses of all sizes across numerous sectors. With the potential to recover a substantial portion of your R&D expenditure, understanding and leveraging these reliefs can be transformative for your company and propel scientific and technological innovation.

Navigating the process can be tricky, but that’s where we come in. Our team is here to clear up the confusion and handle the nitty-gritty details for you. So, if you’re feeling even a little overwhelmed or have a question, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. We’re here to make the world of tax simpler for you and, as always, help you make the most of the reliefs available.