Make sure you’re on top of your R&D Tax Returns

Steph Hurst, Corporate Tax Consultancy and Personal Tax Compliance Director, Monahans.

 

In the Autumn Statement of November 2022, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt announced a series of plans that aimed to increase “the amount of research and development (R&D) carried out by companies … to increase productivity and promote growth” and crack down on abuse of the system to reduce fraudulent claims.

Staggered over a series of milestones – 1st April saw changes to the rates of tax relief – the latest changes, as of 8th August 2023, are to the mechanism for claiming any such relief.

In short, all businesses must now submit an additional information form to support their R&D claim.

Since R&D tax credits were introduced in 2000, HMRC has recommended that businesses prepare reports outlining the activity they have conducted in R&D to give evidence for claims. Guidance has been provided on the content of these reports but, with no set structure, the information submitted in support of a claim can vary significantly.

To standardise the process, this step is now compulsory for every business, including a breakdown of costs, details of technological and scientific advancements, qualifying activities and future uncertainties.

It’s a major revamp and ramping up of the process to ensure businesses are providing a stronger case to access their tax relief. It also aims to help HMRC clamp down on the increasingly prevalent issue of fraud. To support its move, HMRC recently published findings that showed up to 25% of R&D claims were fraudulent, particularly amongst SMEs; there was no qualifying activity in a quarter of SME R&D claims. Eradicating these unlawful practices would save an estimated £250 million in pay outs each year and make things fairer for those who have legitimate claims.

The process has also switched to a digital portal and, where the report used to be submitted in addition to a business’s corporation tax return, this must now be done before the corporation tax return. If businesses fail to do this or submit in the wrong order, the R&D claim will be rejected, so the rules are becoming far tighter.

While businesses may bemoan the need to adapt to the changes, in theory, there shouldn’t be much additional work created. The reports should be standard practice for any business looking to provide a strong case as to why it should qualify for tax relief and avoid any issues further down the line. The extra level of detail will limit the number of errors, reduce the number of rejections and sift out the businesses who do not qualify.

Of course, the changes will affect some organisations more than others. Many smaller enterprises who prepare their own R&D claims may not currently submit the level of information required by the additional information form. Accountants should be up to speed on these updates but businesses without advisors or accountants, many of whom are time-poor and have therefore historically taken short cuts to receive their tax relief, will no longer be able to do so.

From the rates changes that came into effect in April to this most recent raft of changes, the R&D landscape has shifted considerably over the last 12 months. The level of HMRC scrutiny has been dramatically hiked to compensate for the estimated £70 billion that the government had to pay out between April 2020 and November 2021 to help organisations through COVID-19, and R&D has been identified as an area that can be modernised and far better policed. Indeed, over 100 new R&D specialists have been recruited within HMRC, with the number of enquiries opened by the team having already doubled.

Although these changes are all designed to streamline and digitise what has historically been a messy system, it’s incumbent on businesses to be au fait with the new environment. It’s vital that all companies – particularly SMEs – know what is required when submitting their R&D claims, so that they aren’t missing deadlines or completing forms incorrectly, and forgoing their opportunities to claim vital funds.

 

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