Explaining R&D Tax Credits

If you are new to research and development tax relief there will be all kinds of questions you’d like answered so we’ve put together a list of FAQs to help.


What is R&D tax relief?

In 2000 the UK government introduced a scheme to encourage scientific and technological innovation. R&D tax relief allows companies that carry out qualifying R&D related to their trade to claim an extra corporation tax deduction for certain qualifying expenditure.

The UK government have pledged to run R&D tax credits until 2032.

What does our company have to do to qualify for the R&D tax credit SME scheme?

You have to attempt to overcome scientific or technological uncertainties at your own risk by creating new or enhancing existing products, services, software or processes. This is qualifying R&D activity.

Other qualifying criteria include: your company is a SME (HMRC definition); your R&D is contained in an identifiable project; and the R&D has costs such as staff and materials.

What is the time limit for R&D tax relief claims?

The deadline for amending Corporation Tax (CT600) is normally 24 months after the end of your company’s 12 month accounting period.

For example, if you file accounts to 31 December each year, for accounting period ended 31 December 2018, you have until 31 December 2020 to submit an R&D tax claim.  So from 1 January 2021 you can no longer claim for qualifying R&D activities between 1 January 2018 and 31 December 2018.

How much R&D tax relief can our company get?

Small to medium businesses (SME) can claim effectively 25% – 33% on qualifying R&D costs depending on the profit/loss position – the current average SME claim is around £60,000.

Another scheme for larger companies, called Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) gives a less generous tax relief credit of effectively 10.5% on eligible R&D costs.


Can we claim R&D tax credit for failed projects?

As far as HMRC are concerned R&D is all about taking a risk to overcome scientific or technical uncertainty for R&D tax relief. The successful outcome or commercial utilisation of the R&D is of no interest to HMRC.

Can my company claim if the R&D project isn't finished?

R&D projects do not always fall conveniently in one financial year. You have to make a separate R&D tax credit adjustment for each tax year the project is active and incurring eligible R&D costs.

HMRC allow you to re-state corporation tax via a CT600 for up to 24 months from the end of your company’s accounting period.

What if your company is loss making?

For a company making a loss an R&D claim will increase the taxable loss. This can be carried back, carried forward or surrendered for a cash payment at a rate of 14.5% against the enhanced 230% expenditure under the SME scheme. Hence this can create a credit of up to 33% of the eligible costs.

What is the definition of an SME for R&D tax credits purposes?

HMRC define a SME for R&D tax credits purposes as a company with fewer than 500 staff, and either a turnover of less than €100 million or gross assets of less than €86 million. This is double the more widely used European Union SME definition.

It is important to note that companies which are members of a group structure need to apply the SME definition limits to all worldwide companies in the group as if they were a single economic entity.

What happens if our business outgrows the definition of a SME?

When your company grows beyond SME it’ll fall under the less generous research and development expenditure credit (RDEC) scheme. However there is a grace period and your company will not change status until the SME conditions have been exceeded for 2 consecutive years.

Can we claim R&D tax relief for reproducing a product that already exists?

This is eligible for R&D tax credit providing details of how to produce the original is not publicly available or deducible by a competent professional in the field.

It is also helpful when claiming to show that you have made improvements to the competitor’s product, service, software or process.

Can we claim for R&D we sub-contract to a 3rd party?

You can claim 65% of any costs you’ve paid to a subcontractor undertaking R&D qualifying activities. If your company is connected to the subcontractor or any other company then there are likely to be additional accounting steps to calculate the effective R&D costs.

We're contracted to do R&D, can we still claim?

As long as your company is bearing the risk for the outcome of the R&D activities the costs are eligible. If your company is connected to the main contractor or any other company via a shareholding then there are likely to be additional accounting steps to calculate the effective R&D costs.

It is also possible to apportion the benefit between two separate claims if both parties are collaborating and each pays their own R&D qualifying costs.

Do charities or Limited Liability Partnerships qualify for R&D tax credits?

Charities, LLP’s (and Scottish equivalent SLP’s) do not pay corporation tax so they are ineligible for the SME R&D tax credit scheme. The only exception to this would be if the LLP or SLP was part owned by a partner registered as a company paying corporation tax. Any claim would have to be routed through this partner in proportion to their share.

Can R&D tax relief be claimed by an individual or sole trader?

Individuals and sole traders do not pay corporation tax so R&D tax relief cannot apply. It makes sense therefore to plan ahead and register a company before embarking on a significant R&D project.

Our R&D project is being undertaken overseas, does this still qualify?

The location of the R&D activity does not matter for R&D tax credits provided your company is subject to corporation tax in the UK. If you sub-contracted qualifying R&D to another then you can claim 65% of the payment to the sub-contractor.

If your company is connected to the overseas R&D company or any other company then there are likely to be additional accounting steps to calculate the effective R&D costs.

We're a subsidiary in a group of companies, does this affect R&D tax relief?

Companies connected to each other via a shareholding affects R&D tax relief eligibility because HMRC treat them as a single economic entity. This can easily increase things like staff numbers to such an extent that a R&D tax relief SME claim is no longer valid.

Instead the claim would have to be submitted under the less generous research and development expenditure credit (RDEC) scheme.


Interested in claiming R&D tax credits?

Qualifying Expenditure

Do HMRC set a minimum R&D tax credit amount?

HMRC allow any R&D qualifying expenditure amount to be claimed.

Does VAT get included in a R&D tax relief claim?

For VAT registered companies inputs are recovered in a VAT return and therefore not included in a R&D tax relief claim. However for exempt companies, e.g. Aviation or Financial Services then VAT can be included.

What if we manage to sell one of our R&D prototypes?

If a prototype is made for R&D purposes, then design, construction and testing costs are qualifying expenses. However if the R&D prototype is produced and then sold the production costs would not be eligible but design, modelling and testing could still qualify.

Can staff expenses be included in a R&D tax credit claim?

Staff have to be reimbursed for any expense that directly relates to the R&D activity, e.g. travelling or subsistence to be an allowable expense for R&D tax credits.

If your company initially paid for the staff expense e.g. on account or by company credit card then these costs are not allowable.

Software we bought for R&D is being used post-project, does this qualify?

If the software was directly employed during R&D then you’ll be able to claim a reasonable apportionment.

Can pension contributions be included in a R&D tax relief claim?

Employer pension contributions can be included in a R&D tax credit claim. The burdened salary of an employee (salary, national insurance and employer pension) are apportioned depending on how much time was spent on the R&D project plus any reimbursed R&D related business expenses.

What about claiming for our new R&D building?

Buildings, plant and machinery are normally treated as capital assets and not eligible costs under the SME and RDEC schemes. Instead the capital expenditure may qualify for a separate Research and Development Allowance.

Can director dividends be included in a R&D tax relief claim?

Director’s dividends do not count as qualifying expenditure for R&D tax credit. This is because dividends are distributed to shareholders from net company profit and not treated as an operating expense.

Hence any company director undertaking R&D with a comparatively low salary and significant dividends should consider delegating as much R&D work as possible to other staff in order to maximise R&D tax credits.

Do we have to prove how much time staff have spent on a R&D project?

Typically if you are claiming R&D tax credits for the first time HMRC allow estimates providing there is solid financial evidence with a robust apportionment methodology.

It’s best to be prepared for future claims by keeping time sheets or other record keeping for R&D staff activity so that claims can be maximised.

What happens if we already receive a grant for R&D?

If your grant is classified as State Aid then expenditure is not eligible under the SME R&D tax credits scheme. You will have to claim instead under the much less generous research and development expenditure credits (RDEC) scheme.

Claim Process

How do you charge for your R&D tax relief service?

Easy R&D levy a fee based on the percentage of successful R&D tax credit claim amounts, with no upfront consultancy charges i.e. no win, no fee.

Do Easy R&D have a minimum claim size?

HMRC do not specify a minimum claim size. We’ll consider all potential R&D tax relief claims before suggesting whether you take the next step with us. On the one hand we need to sift through “commercial innovation” with some clients who believe they have a large R&D claim, but don’t, and on the other hand, tease out claims from clients who don’t even realise the extent of their substantial R&D activities – let’s talk.

How can we be sure a R&D tax credit claim is really worth the effort?

Easy R&D will determine your eligibility at the outset. With a fee only paid on a successful claim we certainly don’t want to waste your time, or ours. The 5 Easy Steps R&D tax relief claims process doesn’t require your work time either after an initial meeting, you can complete it at your own pace via our online portal. Why not contact us and join the hundreds of Easy R&D’s clients who’ve benefited from the R&D tax credit SME scheme?

Do we have to sign an agreement with you to advise us?

In common with all professional tax advisors we are obliged to have a terms of engagement agreement between Easy R&D and a company director to give you company tax advice. We also have to be registered with HMRC as an Accountancy Services Provider, comply with the Money Laundering Regulations and maintain professional indemnity insurance, details available at Standard Terms of Business.

How long does a R&D tax credit claim submission take?

Depending on the complexity and how quickly you can get information to us via the Easy R&D Claim Portal a claim can be normally submitted in 2 – 3 weeks.

How long do HMRC take to process a R&D tax credit claim?

HMRC’s R&D Units aim to review a SME R&D tax credit claim within 28 days, and pay within a few weeks later. Complex claims and those filed during peak times such as March year ends or holiday periods may take a little longer. The latest information about claim times is here.

Why can't our accountant claim our R&D tax relief?

Apart from large national accountancy practices few accountants have any experience submitting R&D tax credits or dealing with HMRC’s R&D Specialist Units in Leicester, Manchester or Portsmouth. Also if you are simply telling your accountant what to claim then it’s highly likely you’ll be significantly understating the actual R&D undertaken. Easy R&D take the opposite approach where we’ll be probing your company’s activities on a technical level and prompting you to reveal the true extent of your company’s R&D. This can be achieved without taking up valuable work time using the Easy R&D Claim Portal. Even if you’ve already submitted a claim with an accountant we can give you a free audit for the last two calendar years from the end of your company’s financial period.

Why use a R&D tax advisor - we can handle a claim ourselves?

It is possible if you have plenty of time, can draw on the knowledge of a competent accountant and technical advocacy skills to submit your own R&D tax credit claim. However claims submitted by individuals almost always understate the tax relief amount, or omit to provide robust support for the qualifying costs, or respond to HMRC queries with an unconvincing technical narrative. As a specialist R&D tax advisor we submit hundreds of claims a year using a proven claim methodology in the Easy R&D Claim Portal, chartered tax accountants and professional report writers. Easy R&D will maximise your claim, liaise with the HMRC R&D Specialist Unit and there’s nothing to pay until the claim is successful.

Won't a R&D claim trigger a HMRC tax enquiry on my company?

Not by itself because R&D tax claims are handled separately by HMRC’s R&D Specialist Units in Leicester, Manchester or Portsmouth. If there are underlying issues with your company’s tax affairs an enquiry will be raised by the HMRC office handling your corporation tax. Claims submitted by Easy R&D undergo care and due diligence using a proven methodology to exceed HMRC claim standards. However in the rare case that questions are asked we will manage this at our cost until HMRC approve the claim.  We have a 100% success rate across all claims. If you have submitted a claim to HMRC yourself and are facing issues than contact us as we may be able to help.


Get in touch on 0800 195 7516