R&D TAX CREDITS: THE FULL GUIDE
-How to claim R&D Tax Credits-
R&D Tax Credits are complicated, right?
This page is a complete guide on research and development (R&D) tax credits, from how to tell if you’re eligible, to how much you could get back and even how to claim them on your own.
And if things get too complex, just get in touch!
WHAT ARE R&D TAX CREDITS?
R&D Tax Credits are a tax break put in place by the UK Government.
They let you reclaim up to 33% of your R&D costs, even if your project failed.
The money is paid as a corporation tax refund, or as a negative corporation tax, after the end of the financial year, tax free, and can be used for anything – hiring more developers, buying equipment, or even paying out dividends.
R&D Tax Credits create a positive cycle of investment
*R&D costs can include: Subcontractor costs, technical analysis, management, testing, prototyping, developing manufacturing processes, software licenses, supporting software/SaaS, and part of hardware costs.
HOW DO I QUALIFY FOR R&D TAX CREDITS?
Prove to HMRC that your tech was complex through submitting financial and technical info.
The R&D must meet HMRC’s rather detailed criteria.
Jumping to the good stuff, a project qualifies if it provides an “advance” in science and technology.
But that’s jargon! What does it mean?
It’s easier to use examples:
> LIKELY TO QUALIFY: A logistics platform that automatically calculates how to get a product delivered to the right locations on time and at what price to sell it in those locations would probably qualify.
> UNLIKELY TO QUALIFY: Setting up a WordPress or Drupal site.
>LIKELY TO QUALIFY: A platform that enables people to upload video, and which uses image recognition to analyse and tag the videos to make them searchable, would probably qualify.
Scale and performance can also be a factor:
> A website that enables people to send short messages and images to each other would probably not qualify… but if it does so for 400 million daily active users, it probably would, due to the technical challenges involved.
> A search tool that searches across a few hundred simply structured documents on a hard drive probably wouldn’t qualify… but if it is providing instant results while searching across terabytes of data spread over dozens of corporate shared drives, it probably would.
If the project had a certain outcome, it’s probably not R&D.
Were there times when you weren’t sure if a component could be built to the required specification (performance, scalability, etc), because of the technical constraints?
If it achieved something that few others (or no-one!) have achieved, and if the knowledge of how they did it is not commonplace, then it could be R&D.
On the other hand, if what you’ve done is common knowledge, then it’s probably not R&D.
Typically, something that cost £3k isn’t likely to be qualifying.
If you spend £100k or more on competent developers/engineers to build it, then chances are there was some technical uncertainty and R&D involved.
The “thumb rule” is that if you have smart and competent people with significant formal qualifications spending a lot of time on the project, then it’s another hint that it may be R&D.
If you don’t, though, that’s not necessarily a negative signal.
Unfortunately, it’s not enough for the technology to qualify.
You also need to have spent money developing it, and in the right ways so that HMRC will count it for your R&D tax relief.
Thankfully, the rules are much more clear-cut than on the technology.
You can get R&D Tax Credits if:
> You have a UK company;
> That UK company must have actually spent money (not sweat equity) building a technology that meets the criteria above;
> That money was spent on either:
• Staff on PAYE;
• External contractors paid day rate;
• A subcontractor who quoted a price and then delivered the project for you;
• Materials that were used up during the project and could not be sold on for full price;
• Software licences (not hosting) that you needed to deliver the project.
> That money was spent during your last two completed financial years (could be up to 36 months ago).
That’s it! There are a lot of further details and edge cases to think about, but if you meet
all those criteria you are pretty much certain to qualify.
R&D TAX CREDITS PRICING
Some things are best left to the imagination. Our price list isn’t one of them.
At GrantTree, we were the first government funding specialists to be totally transparent and we reveal everything you need to know about our fees up front with our public pricing, because when it comes to the topic of coin, we think that to bare all is best.
This can vary slightly depending on your R&D expenditure. We strive to advance our clients’ R&D Tax Credits on the day of filing, through our unique Advance Funding product.
HOW MUCH IS IT WORTH TO ME?
The precise calculations can be a bit daunting depending your exact situation (though they are less daunting if you read through our instructions below), but as a thumb rule, if you’re a profitable SME you can expect about 25% of your R&D costs refunded. If you’re loss-making SME, you can expect about 33% back. If you’re around breakeven, it can go down to 15%.
If you’re doing R&D in a large company, you can typically get up to 10% of your R&D costs back.
So if you’re running a highly innovative and profitable tech company that’s spending half a million a year on engineers and developers you could get upwards of £125k from the R&D Tax Credits scheme.
THIS SOUNDS GREAT, HOW DO I GET THIS?
- Write a convincing Technical Narrative
- Put together a clear Table of Financial Calculations
- Amend the CT600 & file with HMRC
- READ ON For all the details about how to do it yourself.
The easiest and quickest way is to speak to a specialist (like us) and let them do all the work. However, if you have the time, you can definitely do it yourself by following the instructions on this page and on the articles linked from here.
The key mechanism to get your R&D Tax Credits is that you need to fill the right boxes in your CT600, 5 and file that (or refile it, if you are making a claim for years that you had already submitted) along with an explanation of why your projects qualify (also known as a Technical Narrative 6), and a calculations table that justifies why you claimed the amount you did.
The essential point of that filing is to convince HMRC that you understand their definition about what activities and costs qualify, and have applied it diligently. If they believe you got it right, they will pay you the correct amount within 2 to 8 weeks depending on their workload.
If they think you got it wrong, you can end up with an HMRC enquiry. That sucks. You don’t want that. At best it can involve a few questions that delay you by a couple of months. At worst, it can involve a gruelling meeting and penalties for misfiling. Hopefully with our guide here you can get it right every time, but if you’re worried, please do use a specialist.
SOME OF OUR DELIGHTED CLIENTS
HOW DO I WRITE THE TECHNICAL NARRATIVE?
Luckily for you, here at GrantTree we’ve put together the only guide there is anywhere on the web that explains how to write a great technical narrative, with examples. Here are the key articles you will want to read.
How to nail the technical narrative before you even start writing
Like any such complex activity, there are things you can do before you even get started that will set you on the right course, or not. In this article: getting the right data.
How do I organise the technical narrative?
If you speak to a specialist like us, they’ll often talk about something called a “project”. This is the basic organising unit of a claim, but its definition is quite flexible.
How do I collect the data I need?
The person who did the R&D is often not the right one to write the technical narrative. But you need to get data out of them. This article explains how to get that data and gives a full example of what the raw data might look like.
How do I write the technical narrative?
The final piece of the puzzle! In this article, you will find a clear guide to how to go about writing this document, as well as a full example of what the end product looks like.
HOW DO I PREPARE THE FINANCIAL CALCULATIONS?
We are still working on fleshing this topic out with more articles, but the essence of it is that you need to demonstrate how you’ve arrived at the final number that you’re claiming. For this, you’ll first want to read the following articles.
Which types of costs qualify?
The whole picture of what you can claim for. If it’s not on this list, you can’t claim for it.
Can I claim for dividends? Travel expenses?
Still not clear on what you can claim for? Some more answers here.
Can I claim for Capital Expenditure?
This is one of the most commonly encountered “accounting problems” for tax credit claims.
These outline the key concepts for deciding which costs to include. One important note is that not all costs are equal. There’s an art to assigning the right percentages to some categories, but in essence you want to make sure that you are only claiming for directly contributing activities and something called “qualifying indirect activities”, when it comes to full time staff. The percentage of a full time staff member’s time that qualifies can be anything from 5% for someone who provides occasional input and direction to the project, to 95% for a highly technical person assigned full time to the project.
For the categories of “externally provided workers” and “subcontractors” 7, the maximum percentage is reduced to 65% – so an EPW who is full time on your project would only have 65% of their cost allocated to the R&D.
Once you’ve got this basic table of costs, have a read through the following articles for how to calculate the claim:
How do I claim if I’m unprofitable?
Claims by unprofitable businesses, or businesses with small profits, are calculated differently, and typically result in very different amounts, sometimes less, sometimes more. Learn all about it here.
What are the exact rates to apply?
HMRC keeps changing the rates every year, to keep things interesting. What are the current rates? How do you deal with years that straddle a rate change (as will be the case for almost every year)? All your answers here.
In essence, you need to apply the correct rate of enhancement and surrender (if applicable) to arrive at the correct numbers, and then fill them in in the right part of the CT600.
"GrantTree provides clear and professional guidance. Their knowledge of the regulations and understanding of technology generates confidence in the integrity of the claim process for all parties. I would highly recommend the service."Brent Randall, Director
"GrantTree is a highly professional service provided by people with deep understanding of business. From first contact to money in our start-up’s account in 2 days, dealing with an experienced decision maker throughout; we look forward to working with Rowan and the team again."Katie Christy, Founding Director
"From beginning to end, GrantTree has been a huge asset in making my funding stretch further. The team made the process as easy as possible and the Advance Funding product they offer was extremely useful. Wouldn't hesitate to recommend."Maz Nadjm, Founding Director
“Working with you guys has been an absolute dream, no jokes.”Peter Walsh, Founder
"It was a pleasure working with GrantTree. They get the startup space, they have a great culture and the service was really friendly and efficient - what you’d expect from a fellow startup!”Dimitar Stanimiroff, Managing Director
"GrantTree has been great in helping us get R&D Tax Credits back from HMRC. We had never done this before were astounded by how easy and clear they made the entire process”Laura Bridges
"Grant Tree's approach to R&D Tax Credits is a breath of fresh air. They take the weight off your shoulders and do all the work of preparing the claim - literally less than a day's work across our team.”Simon Brickle, COO
“There is no other support company I know who is more in the ‘now’ of R&D Tax credits and grant funding. They’re open and transparent in their ‘doing’; supremely innovative in their own right. The magic that is GrantTree!”Sam Duong, CEO
Working with GrantTree was an easy and seamless process. Whenever I had issues or questions, GrantTree was on hand to provide guidance and advice on the best way to present the claim so as to maximise the benefit. Thanks again!!!Andrew Smith, Finance Manager
Incredibly professional team who did exactly what they said they would do. They were so helpful in guiding us through and the communication during the application process was amazing. Cannot recommend these guys highly enough.Jess Astbury
The GrantTree team has been great to work with and were proactive in highlighting costs we hadn’t initially spotted as R&D. Would highly recommend for companies who want to claim but want to avoid eating into their development time.Maria Campbell
"GrantTree made the whole process of applying for R&D Tax Credits completely painless. Their extensive experience is invaluable in navigating the complex rules and putting together an application that ensures you claim the support that you are entitled to."Tom Robinson, Co-COO and Co-Founder
"GrantTree’s service was fast and responsive. They identified costs that we missed and increased our claim size. We’re happy customers and recommend working with them."Justin Fitzpatrick, Co-COO
We’ve worked with GrantTree for a few years now. They take the pain and complexity out of claiming R&D tax credits so we can focus on developing our product instead of getting buried in paperwork.Jeremy Jarvis, Co-founder
HOW DO I FILL IN AND FILE THE CT600?
Preparing the CT600: the last piece of the jigsaw
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER FILING?
GrantTree offers Advance Funding to both its clients and as a standalone product so you can get an advance of up to £75k of your R&D claim if you can’t wait for HMRC to process your application.
After filing, your claim should go to an HMRC R&D unit where it may be reviewed by an inspector. If the claim was well prepared and clear, they may well accept it immediately and you could receive the money as soon as two weeks later (in extreme cases) or, more likely, 4-6 weeks later, or 8 weeks later during slow periods.
If the inspector finds the claim lacking in some aspect, they will be very unlikely to reject it but they will certainly ask for follow-up questions. In the worst case scenarios of deliberate and obstructive fraud (which we’ve never actually seen happen despite well over a thousand claims filed), they may launch a full enquiry into your whole accounts and impose severe penalties.
Most likely, there will be some form of process to try and help reassure both you and HMRC that you got the claim right. Here are some articles to help you through this process if it happens:
What are HMRC Audits like?
Hopefully you never need this section, but if you’ve received an inquiry letter from HMRC, here’s how to access it.
What does a friendly HMRC enquiry letter look like?
Curious? Nosy? Never seen one before? Hope to never see one, but want to know what it’s like? Click and find out!
If the enquiry looks a bit too much for you to handle, we recommend contacting a specialist like GrantTree to help (though they’d naturally prefer to be involved earlier in the process and avoid the enquiry altogether). In most cases, it needn’t be such a scary process, so long as it’s handled right.
ANYTHING ELSE I SHOULD KNOW?
R&D Tax Credits is one of those topics that seems fairly straightforward once you have the basic concepts in place, but it is full of edge cases. Perhaps it’s because of the types of clients that naturally end up working with us, but our experience is that only about 20% of clients are “straightforward”. 80% involve at least one edge case, and a small portion of those can be fiendishly complicated.
So with that in mind, the additional topics below are by no means exhaustive, but may be helpful nevertheless.
Should I get my accountant to file R&D Tax Credits?
Getting your accountant to help with seems like a good idea, but there are several things you should know about how accountants perceive (or fail to perceive) Tax Credits.
Can I claim every year?
Yes. Here’s how and why.
Should I use a specialist for large claims?
Specialists can feel expensive, particularly when dealing with larger claims. Here are some points about why they can still be worthwhile even with a larger price tag.
What are the PAYE/NIC caps and when do they apply?
PAYE caps are no longer in force since 2012, but offsets still apply. Read more here.
How much should my accountant charge me?
Many accountants these days say they “do R&D Tax Credits”. What does that mean, and how much should they charge?
We will publish more over the coming months.
If there is anything else about r&d tax credits, r&d relief / tax relief you would like us to add to this guide, let us know!
This is a term HMRC uses to refer to R&D that fits their specific criteria involving “advances in science and technology” and “technological uncertainty” – more on that later↩
A company with more than 500 employees or with both turnover over €100m and assets above €86m
The money is paid as a corporation tax refund, or as a negative corporation tax, after the end of the financial year, tax free, and can be used for anything – hiring more developers, buying equipment, or even paying out dividends.↩
That’s the form with all the shaded boxes that you have to submit to HMRC every year along with your account↩
Writing a good technical narrative can be a bit of an art form, but our guide below should help you ↩
These are HMRC jargon terms that refer to contractors that are basically like employees but paid day rates via an umbrella company (externally provided workers) and companies that deliver on a specification (subcontractors)↩