How to maximise your R&D tax credit claim

By: Wesley Rashid

Date: 15 January 2019

How to maximise your R&D tax credit claimIf your business carries out research and development (R&D) activity, you may be eligible to claim tax breaks. Once you understand how the R&D tax credit system works, you can take the appropriate steps to maximise the amount you can claim.

Here are the five key steps to follow.

1. Fostering an innovation mindset

Successfully claiming R&D tax credits has a positive impact for businesses, and creates a mindset geared towards product innovation. Once you've received your first credit, you get a financial bonus and a boost to productivity and valuation. This is an incentive towards further R&D innovation.

Understanding this mindset and fostering it will help to increase R&D tax credit claims. You'll learn to recognise the potential for innovation, reducing the stress and uncertainty that can arise from the inevitable risks involved.

You can bolster this mindset and reduce some of the stress by adding in the opportunities offered by grant funding. Government R&D grants can be an excellent source of additional R&D funding, but you need to be careful about what you can claim, and how the grant will affect your eligibility to claim R&D tax credits.

2. Optimising your administrative structure

If you haven't yet formalised your company structure, there are some measures that will help you maximise your claims for R&D tax credits. Firstly, to be eligible, you need to be structured as a limited company, paying corporation tax.

Longer-term strategies for optimising claims include determining how to pay company directors involved in R&D projects. If possible, pay them a salary rather than a dividend, because salaries can be claimed as an R&D credit and dividends can't.

This depends, naturally, on what other financial considerations influence your decision, but don't forget to factor it in. If, for example, directors are conducting R&D activities, but are salaried by an entity other than that filing the R&D claim (such as a parent company), you may be obliged to exclude these costs, even if they are later recharged.

Similarly, if you are part of a multinational, only R&D projects conducted in the UK are eligible.

3. Understanding pre-trading expenses for your first claim

It's quite likely that you'll already have undertaken some extensive R&D before you began trading, as this is normally required in order to develop the goods or services you'll be delivering.

It is important, when preparing an R&D tax credit claim, for newly-established businesses to take account of any such pre-trading R&D expenditure, as these costs are considered an enhanced trading loss when you file your first claim. Converted into cash credit, they will give your cashflow a much-needed boost.

As soon as you begin work on any R&D projects, therefore, you should keep an easily accessible record of any advances you sought and received.

4. Embedding sound record-keeping procedures

It is important for the first and any future R&D credit claims to keep reliable records. The costs of any consumable materials you use for your R&D projects should be carefully recorded on your books, especially if you are building prototypes or running trials.

If your accounting system allows for it, one method for doing this is to issue an in-house purchase order. You should also keep track of material wastage, and the value of any goods that you sell on. Keep an up-to-date list of all the R&D projects that you are working on each year, to make sure no project is overlooked, even if it turns out to be ineligible.

One of the key features of a claim for R&D tax credits is the cost of personnel. HMRC expects a claim to demonstrate good record-keeping, which includes the time spent by every employee on every individual R&D task. Your staff therefore need to be separated into two categories - those who are involved in R&D projects and those who aren't.

Incorporating a precise, real-time system of record-keeping will aid immensely in your preparation of R&D tax credit claims. Keep a detailed log as you go of all staff time which has been devoted to R&D, and you'll have a store of direct evidence on which to base a robust claim.

5. Clarifying roles: Externally Provided Workers and subcontractors

One final key HMRC requirement is a clear distinction between the types of staff you are employing for R&D projects; in particular, whether any of the work is outsourced or subcontracted.

For the purpose of claiming tax credits there is a crucial difference, in that Externally Provided Worker (EPWs) are workers supplied by a third-party staff provider, while subcontractors are people with their own business who provide you with a service. This is particularly significant if you are also claiming the RDEC government grant, as only EPW costs are admissible.

Your R&D tax credit claims can also be improved by deciding and documenting which party in a subcontracting relationship can claim ownership of the R&D. Both parties can potentially file the claim for a project, but only one or the other will be eligible for the tax credits - you can't claim twice for the same project.

To make sure this relationship is fully understood, both parties should draw up a clear contract which stipulates who has the entitlement to claim.

To understand all these considerations fully, and to help you to optimise your R&D claims, we strongly recommend the services of an experienced R&D tax credits advisor.

Sponsored post. Copyright © 2019 Wesley Rashid, co-founder and CEO of The Accountancy Cloud.

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