R&D Tax Credits – The simple tip that could save you time, money and hassle


How recording your technical challenges as you go could speed up your R&D Tax Credits application and give you access to HMRC’s cash quicker

Building your R&D Tax Credits application takes a lot of work. Luckily you have the whole year to prepare. And we have a killer tip on how you could use some of that lead time to speed up the application process and get your hands on HMRC’s money quicker.

Your application is predicated on one key thing: proving you conducted R&D. In HMRC’s eyes, R&D occurs when you take a systematic approach to solve a “technological uncertainty”, which arises when a “competent professional” isn’t sure how to solve a particular technical issue. For instance, if you’re looking to develop entirely new software capabilities and there’s no information out there to guide you.

In experimenting to find a solution, you are performing research and development (as long as the project is seeking to advance the relevant field of science or technology). Problem, experimentation, possible solution. That, in a nutshell, is R&D.

Our big tip

So, when filing for R&D Tax Credits, your technical narrative needs to talk about the challenges you encountered. Remember the challenges must be purely technical. Issues with things like logistics, suppliers, and employees aren’t relevant to your application.  

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Dev teams can be hesitant to talk about challenges with their superiors, particularly if they’ve struggled or failed to solve them. But this is exactly the sort of information that strengthens your case for tax credits. Failures prove the challenge was difficult to overcome. We tried one thing, it didn’t work. We used learnings from that failure to devise another approach, it did work. This demonstrates the systematic approach that HMRC is looking for, and negates the likelihood that you fluked your way to a solution.  

Explaining the problems you faced and how you tackled them is a hugely important part of your application. The greater the challenge, the more likely you performed R&D. But the issue is that very often companies can’t remember the challenges they faced one or two years ago.

It’s understandable. There’s a lot to remember when building a business and/or a product. Also when we overcome an obstacle, it’s human nature to pat ourselves on the back and mentally move on. But this means that, come application time, a lot of companies have to spend time wading through oceans of documents and emails and notes to figure out what challenges they faced and how they solved them.

Working backwards like that is stressful and time consuming. But luckily the solution is simple. Here’s our big tip:

Record your challenges as you go along!

It’s honestly that straightforward. A little trick that could save you time, money and hassle when it comes to filing your application.

You don’t have to take extensive notes, just enough to jog your memory when you’re writing your technical narrative. There are just three things you should make a note of:

  • What was the challenge?
  • Why was it challenging?
  • How was it solved?

Easy. You also don’t have to make a note every day of the challenges you faced. That can be time-consuming in itself, and become an unwanted distraction when you’re working towards an urgent developmental deadline. Making notes of challenges once a quarter is plenty.

Personally, we also like the idea of management organising quarterly check-in lunches with their development team. In addition to talking about progress and the business generally, management can enquire about challenges and failures, and someone can take notes.

If you’re working with a professional R&D Tax Credit consultant, you could also record these conversations. This way the consultant will get an unfiltered, first-hand account of the challenges, and will be better placed to build a more convincing application.

So there you have it. A simple, but very effective way to speed up and smooth out the R&D Tax Credits application process. If you have any questions about this tip, or would like to know more about our services, don’t hesitate to get in touch!

If you are curious about R&D Tax Credits, Innovation Grants and Open Culture


Martin W Brennan
Martin W Brennan

With a background in electrical installation engineering and a penchant for creative writing, Martin decided to study journalism and began writing about technology, often at the intersection with business. He eventually found his way to GrantTree's technical writing team where he now oversees the technical side of our R&D Tax Credits claims.