research and development tax

North West SMEs claim an average £32,000 R&D tax relief

Salford Quays & BBC MediaCity UK - The Tram

Latest HM Revenue & Customs figures reveal that a total of £52m tax relief was claimed in the North West under the UK R&D tax credit scheme in 2010-11.

The £52m is spread over 985 claims giving an average claim of £53,000 (interestingly, this compares with an average claim of just £19,000 in London!), although this includes large company claims which can be significant. However, even when claims by large companies are split out North West SME companies claimed an average of £32,000 in tax relief.

This is good news for local North West companies and the number of claims made was 3rd highest overall after the South East (1) and London (2).

Overall, out of the almost 5 million SMEs in the UK only 8,140 R&D tax claims were made in 2010-11 and less than 1% of UK SMEs have made a claim for enhanced R&D tax relief since its introduction in 2000. I find this statistic staggering.

What should you do now?

  1. If you haven’t already reviewed your company activities to determine whether you have a potential R&D tax credit claim you should do this asap – there is a timelimit for backdating claims.
  2. If you have made R&D claims, compare your claims with the averages noted above and if your claim was for less than £32,000 consider whether it is worth getting a second opinion – you can amend claims if they are still within the two year timelimit.
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HMRC offers R&D tax credit help for small companies

HMRC has announced today a pilot scheme to assist small companies in making their first Research and Development (R&D) tax credit claim.

Small companies for these purposes are companies with fewer than 50 employees – so still fairly sizeable in actual fact.

The idea is that participants will be allocated an R&D tax contact from HMRC who will assist the company in putting together a claim and agree a basis for the next two years’ claims provided that they follow the same basis.

This is great news for small companies or startups who would like advance assurance before commencing work in compiling and filing an R&D claim, however, we’ll have to see how this works in practice. For example, in terms of

  • is there sufficient HMRC resource to commit to individual company claims (they are already stretched); and
  • I hate to be cynical but there has to be a question mark over HMRC’s incentive to help companies maximise claims or explore angles or more obscure claims that might not be immediately apparent.

The sorts of issues and technical matters that you would hope your accountant or tax advisor is already doing for you.

R&D tax credit “production” confusion!

There has been this ongoing problem for companies that are solving technological or scientific uncertainties (and therefore,on the face of it, qualify for research & development enhanced tax relief) yet the product that emanates from this R&D process is ultimately sold to a customer e.g. a prototype that is sold rather than skipped.

HMRC’s view has been that if the product was sold it must represent excluded “production” activities rather than a qualifying R&D process and therefore cannot be qualifying expenditure.

The thinking here is that the R&D tax credit exists to encourage investment in the advancement of scientific or technological knowledge where there is no alternative market driver so, on the flip-side, if there are customers willing to purchase the fruits of your labour then why do you need the tax credits? But this analysis does not stand up to economic scrutiny for 99% of SMEs; in that you may not have known how to achieve what you ultimately created but, if you are successful, why on earth would you want to dump your invention or prototype in the skip if there happens to be a willing buyer?!!

The good news is that recent HMRC guidance has softened this approach. It is not a complete reversal of policy but rather an acceptance that there may be instances where costs of developing products do qualify for the R&D tax relief despite ultimate sale.

A key takeaway from this will be the heightened need for appropriate documentation to evidence when the qualifying R&D ceased and excluded “production” activities commenced.

An improvement to this tricky area – yes – but does this go far enough? How might this impact on your company’s R&D activities and future potential claims?