Running an R&D tax service in-house helps you move away from risky outsourcing strategies, win new business and drive growth for your practice.
Tune in to our webinar on the 20th August at 12.30pm to join Richard Edwards and Jen Badger from WhisperClaims where we’ll be discussing client eligibility.
Identifying eligible clients is the first step towards running a successful in-house R&D service. Learn how to spot innovation within your client base and across some of the most unlikely sectors in the UK.
Running: 20th August at 12.30pm
To book your place please visit our EventBrite page.
For more details on the panel click here.
Here at WhisperClaims, we’re always trying to think of ways to enhance our app for our customers. One of these enhancements relates to our User Experience / User Interface (UX/UI), which very broadly translates into “is our app nice to use and does it look good?”
Our exciting news is that we’ll soon be launching the next version of our User Interface, which will look simpler and cleaner. Almost all of the functionality will remain the same (so you don’t need to worry about re-training!) but we’ve taken the opportunity to make the Collaboration section even more intuitive.
We’ll be rolling out the new interface within the next 2 months, but in the meantime we wanted to give you a quick sneak peek at what’s coming. We hope you agree it looks nicer, and can’t wait for you to see the real thing!
Thanks to everyone who joined our Webinar on the 23rd July to discuss the ins and outs of running an R&D tax service in-house. As promised, here’s a summary of the questions asked and our responses. For any further enquiries please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
a) HMRC’s initial approach is usually to seek to engage with you or your client on an informal basis. They might call with a few questions, or send you a list by email. Many informal enquiries can usually be resolved relatively quickly by a responsive advisor. Should HMRC not get the information it’s looking for quickly, it may open a formal enquiry – this entails deadlines and the potential for penalties.
b) We’ve seen a number of enquiries over the years, but assess the enquiry rate to be very low (perhaps 1-2%) given the large number of claims and HMRC’s limited resources. In an enquiry, however, the standard they apply is demanding; expect hair-splitting!
c) In our experience, claims with a tax benefit of more than £50,000 are likely to attract greater scrutiny (although not necessarily an enquiry).
I think the opposite appears to have happened – HMRC have accelerated the processing of claims in an effort to rush support to SMEs at a time of national crisis.
Going into an enquiry, HMRC tend to be more focused on the company’s level of understanding of the guidance and how it’s been applied to their projects and activities. They want to get a feel for how close the company’s definition of R&D is to their own. Once that’s been established, they’ll look at how the costs have been collected. They don’t necessarily expect a first-time claimant to be capturing costs perfectly, but will expect them to improve their process over time to become more accurate.
The ebook is available through the Guides section of our website.
You can do so, but this might not work as well as you hope. HMRC might take the view that if your client (Company A) has given the specialist IT company (Company B) a contract, it’s up to Company B to determine how to implement that contract. If Company B is able to do so simply by using existing tools, techniques and knowledge, then science hasn’t been advanced and there won’t be a claim for R&D tax relief at all, by any party. Conversely, if Company B has conducted its own side-project to develop new-to-the-industry knowledge which it has chosen to employ in the satisfaction of the contract from Company A, it’s likely that HMRC would deem eligibility to lie with Company B.
Yes, but all the same rules apply. You’d be looking for competent professionals (i.e. software developers, or in larger projects, software engineers) who are able to articulate:
a) The limitations of existing technologies and platforms.
b) What they seek to improve and why that’s considered to be an appreciable improvement over those existing technologies.
c) Details of the technical challenges making that advance difficult to achieve.
If agreement can’t be reached, then the next step is a Tribunal. However, these appear to be extremely rare.
IP is more an indicator of where eligibility lies, rather than a hard and fast rule. For example, most companies commissioning the development of a software system will specify that they own the IP. However, it’s possible (and indeed common) for a company to own the IP to a system without having detailed knowledge about how their system has been implemented from a technical perspective. This technical ‘know how’ tends to reside within the software development company irrespective of what is specified in commercial contracts.
Great, thanks for booking! This course focuses on the R&D scheme itself, covering a wide variety of topics and what we regard as the most important areas. This will certainly make you a lot more confident in taking this service to your clients, but it doesn’t touch on commercial aspects, such as what to charge your clients or how to market to them. (Please contact email@example.com if you are interested in this type of help.)
If you represent both parties, our recommendation for that is to choose a side by deciding where eligibility lies. For example, if the commissioning company is well aware that R&D (as defined by HMRC, rather than the more general accounting definition) needs to take place, and the contract clearly specifies that, then the claim would probably belong to the company paying for the work. Conversely, if the commissioning company was merely creating a specification and it was up to the specialist contractor to decide how to implement it, then the R&D – if there was any – could be argued to lie with them. You definitely don’t want to be in the position of arguing that both parties can claim. This issue is probably most uncomfortable if you are the accountant to both the commissioning company and the subcontractor!
Otherwise I’d say just focus on doing the ethical thing for your client and let the other side worry about their claim.
We don’t have plans to record those at present, as those courses are premium content and only available on a live basis.
Yes, to get R&D tax relief, the company must be seeking to make an advance relative to a baseline level of technology (as opposed to its own state or understanding). What this means in practice is that companies should say: “Here’s what’s commonly done in our industry, and here are the drawbacks and limitations of those approaches. In contrast, here’s what we’re trying to do, and this is why it’s better than those existing methods / techniques / knowledge etc.”. Companies don’t get tax relief for falling into line with what is already accepted to be common practice e.g. by modernising operations by buying new machinery to catch up with competitors.
Your advance doesn’t need to be made available to the industry (and in practice all companies will seek to closely guard their new technical developments). For that reason, it can be hard to know what knowledge or capabilities other companies have, because it’s hidden knowledge. Conversely, in most industries, there are a number of commonly accepted and well-established ways of solving problems, and this would be the technological baseline. The key here is that to the best of its knowledge, the company regards what it’s doing as an advance relative to its competitors.
When talking to HMRC about baselines, it’s usually sufficient to say that the company has checked what’s in the public domain and made best possible use of existing knowledge prior to their R&D commencing. (Finally, HMRC’s guidance is clear that companies can apply for relief even if it’s known that competitors have made a particular advance, but it’s not clear how.)
Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.
Our sell-out ‘The fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme’ training course is running throughout 2020!
To book yourself a place on our course and to see a list of future dates, please visit our Eventbrite page.
Designed for accountants and consultants looking to create a robust R&D consultancy service for their clients by learning the ins and outs of the scheme.
We’ll share our insights on the scheme and bring you up to speed on the fundamentals to help drive your R&D consultancy forward.
Reserve a spot and learn the ropes in a small group of like-minded peers. Groups are kept small so that everyone gets the full attention of our industry experts.
For a list of course dates and to book a place please visit our Eventbrite page.
Receive information about future course dates by subscribing to our WhisperClaims newsletter.
Interested in a closed session to focus on your business? No problem—book a private course to have your team’s needs directly addressed and satisfied.
£1000 + VAT
Obviously, in our line of work, we’re keen to see as many eligible companies claim for R&D tax credits as possible! However, there are always times when it’s best to pause and work out if it’s better for your client not to claim. Here’s our guide to when it might be best to advise your client against claiming.
Easy one first – if the organisation or its projects don’t meet the eligibility criteria, then it shouldn’t be making a claim for R&D tax relief. This could be because it’s not a limited company, or is doing research into non-eligible areas, such as social science. It might also be that it does do work in an area of science or technology, but everything it does is routine.
We occasionally talk to companies who have been pressured in to making a claim. They’re often manufacturing companies that know they don’t do eligible work, but have been told by unscrupulous advisors that they can ‘find’ eligibility and put in a claim. In these cases, submitting the claim risks an enquiry for your client and damage to your reputation with both your client and HMRC – it’s just not worth it!
Your client sends you claim documents prepared by a third-party provider, and you can immediately see that the claim isn’t right. It might be that you can see glaring discrepancies between the accounts you prepared and the claim, or that the work described in the documents doesn’t line up with what you know of your client’s activities, but you find yourself in a difficult position – either submit the claim and risk an enquiry, or refuse to submit and risk an upset client. It’s tricky, but we’d always advise against submitting a claim that you’re not 100% comfortable with, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to double check everything.
Companies in the creative industries have other options for tax relief that might turn out be easier, more appropriate or have a better rate of return for them. For clients working in the areas of filmmaking, animation or video games especially, it’s always worth checking which tax reliefs they’re eligible for. You can only claim one tax relief on each set of costs, so making an informed choice as to which to go for is key.
According to State Aid rules, only one State Aid can be applied to only one project. This means that not only can a company not claim SME tax relief on a project that has received a state aid grant, you also can’t claim State Aid grant funding for a project that has already received SME tax relief. It’s an unlikely scenario – most grant bodies won’t fund a project that has already started – but it’s worth bearing in mind.
Ownership of an R&D project can occasionally be a bit murky, especially in group companies or when subcontractors are involved. In the former case, it can be the case that the R&D is carried out on Company B’s premises, but all of the costs of the R&D are borne by Company A, usually the holding company. In this case, unless Company B reimburses Company A for the R&D costs, they wouldn’t be able to make a claim.
Companies that bring in subcontractors to do R&D on their behalf can also have difficulty working out who can make the claim, and it often requires analysis of the contractual arrangements to resolve.
There are several situations where the work involved in preparing an R&D claim is more than the R&D claim is worth. For example, start-ups with no staff and directors only paid in dividend aren’t likely to have significant costs. It can also be a problem for companies that do a lot of subcontracted R&D for large companies or that have received a lot of grant finding and therefore have to claim through the RDEC scheme, which can often make small claims economically unfeasible. We’d always advise taking a little time at the outset to ballpark the R&D expenditure before starting in earnest to prepare the claim.
Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.
At WhisperClaims, we aim to always walk the walk as much as we talk the talk, and it’s no different when it comes around to preparing our R&D claim. We’ve prepared three claims so far using our own software, and enjoyed every one!
But why do an R&D claim in the first place?
We’re a successful business with a growing client base and a robust product, so we don’t technically need to claim. However, there are two really good reasons for doing so. Firstly, it’s money that we’re entitled to, based on the eligible work we do developing our system, and what company would pass that up?
Secondly, and probably more importantly, it gives me an annual opportunity to do a real live test of the app. Now, of course I know our app well, in fact probably better than anyone else. However, I still like to use preparing our claim as an opportunity to put the myself into the shoes of our clients and to see it through their eyes. This gives me incredibly valuable insight into our user experience.
These two factors (a cash injection and insight into how the app works in the real world) plus all of the feedback and research we get from our customers, helps us invest in continuing improvements to our app.
In our development pipeline we have a host of changes and features we’re planning to build. Some are small, like tweaking the background calculations to adjust for the new rules around employment allowance, and some are a whole lot bigger.
For example, over the past few months we’ve done a lot of research into how we can improve the look and feel of the app to make sure our users get the best possible experience. This has led to a whole heap of changes to be made to all areas of the app, and we’ll be starting work on that over the next few weeks.
In addition, in response to the current circumstances, we’re kicking off a project to improve the collaboration side of the app. We want to make sure that this works seamlessly for all of our users, no matter how they prefer to engage with their clients.
All of this work involves, to some degree, making an advance in the software development science.
We’re pushing the boundaries of the technologies we use to make sure that our app is performant and robust, which will enable us to claim again next year for salary costs, some of our consumables and the consultants that help us with our R&D. I’ll be looking forward to preparing a claim for that work, and anything else we decide to do over the next year!
Sole Associates is an award winning firm of Accountants based in West Byfleet, Surrey, founded by Joe Sole. We recently caught up with Joe to find out how he’s reshaped his R&D service by implementing software. WhisperClaims technology has enabled Joe and his team to put robust checks in place and to easily identify eligible SMEs within their client portfolio.
Prior to setting up the firm, I had spent a number of years as a partner within a traditional firm of accountants, who at the time were delivering a compliance service. I set up Sole Associates because I wanted to offer something unique. At Sole Associates we’ve found that SMEs want business advice that enables them to look forward rather than just looking back. So we focus on finding new opportunities for them. We’re a team of 9 and have been going for ten years now, as of 1st April.
We had limited knowledge at first, so we partnered with an R&D tax specialist to help us prepare claims for our clients. However, once we got to know the process and the work involved we realised it wasn’t that difficult and we could do the claims ourselves.
Before we moved our service in-house we did some training and read up on the guidance. We started using templated reports, but I always felt we needed something more than that to check if the client was eligible.
We now use the WhisperClaims platform because it gives us structure. It looks professional and we do it as a matter of course on every claim.
When you are doing claims in-house it needs to be robust, to be compliant and easy to put together. You don’t want to reinvent the wheel if someone has a solution already.
Often clients think they aren’t eligible, but once we start talking to them about what constitutes R&D we quite often find that there is a claim there.
We also place a lot of focus on being proactive with our clients. We have two meetings with them across the year – one before and one after the financial year-end. The midpoint meeting enables us to spot opportunities early, like identifying if projects could be eligible.
Our clients range from SMEs who have claimed before and those who haven’t. We have an orthodontist lab that does a lot of R&D. They present seminars to dentists and do lots of research and testing. In that space we also have a dentist who is developing an LED gum disease treatment.
We have a road bike manufacturer. They improve carbon tech. A carbon advisor who does projects for McLaren in Formula 1. They conduct research to understand the characteristics of materials used in manufacturing cars.
There are clients who you wouldn’t expect to have a project but there is innovation that goes on all the time.
Leveraging technology has helped us to do more work without having to take on extra resources. It gives our client managers space to focus on our added value services rather than just compliance.
WhisperClaims is up to date with the rules and regulations, it’s robust and you can’t miss something. There are checks to see if a client is eligible and if the project qualifies, it keeps your service in-house rather than using someone external and it gives you control over the process. It’s not a big cost to have that comfort and it puts structure in place.
We’ve had no enquiries from HMRC and we’ve had all the tax back. For clients who haven’t made a claim before, we’ve found a claim. It’s had a big impact on some, probably more the smaller clients because the financial impact on them is larger.
It has helped us grow the firm because we’ve been able to take new clients on. It creates good will with your clients because if you are bringing a claim opportunity to them they’ll talk about it with their friends and family. It generates good PR for your firm.
We are a small firm so when you are getting a £6-12k fee for R&D it makes a big difference.
2019 was a good year and we want to better that. We are much more in tune with R&D and where there might be a claim. One lesson we’ve learnt is not to prejudge where you think a client might have an R&D claim. Even if the client says “no I don’t think we are doing any of that”, probe them. Don’t take the initial answer for granted, ask more specific questions because sometimes you’ll be surprised.
Sole Associates is an award winning firm of Accountants based in West Byfleet, Surrey. They offer leading edge business advisory and compliance services to businesses and individuals. Established in 2010 with the aim of being at the forefront of a new generation of Accountants, Sole Associates is already one of only 40 firms nationally to be included in Steve Pipe’s book, ‘The UK’s Best Accountancy Practices’.
One question we get asked surprisingly often is how does HMRC define the start and end of an R&D project for R&D tax relief purposes. No wonder – HMRC’s definition is much narrower than you’d expect, and doesn’t line up with when a company would define the kick-off or end of an R&D project.
The HMRC guidance states that ‘R&D begins when work to resolve the scientific or technological uncertainty starts, and ends when that uncertainty is resolved or work to resolve it ceases.’ But what does this mean to a claimant, and how does it line up with the normal phases of a project?
In general, an R&D project goes through several phases – planning, research, development, testing, marketing and product release. Of course, there are often several cycles of research, development and testing before the project succeeds (or fails!). Different companies will call these phases different things, but in general the shape of an R&D project is pretty consistent.
How do these phases line up with HMRC’s guidance? Well, you can immediately discount the marketing and release phase – marketing spending is specifically excluded from the scheme. The R&D by HMRC’s definition must therefore end before this stage.
From here it’s a little more complicated, and hangs on the definition of a ‘technical uncertainty’. According to the guidance, ‘Scientific or technological uncertainty exists when knowledge of whether something is scientifically possible or technologically feasible, or how to achieve it in practice, is not readily available or deducible by a competent professional working in the field.’
This means that it’s not enough for the technical staff not to know how they’ll achieve the project outcome, but also whether it is even possible using established knowledge and techniques.
Looking again at the project phases, it can therefore be seen that the start of a project can be a little fuzzy! It’s easiest to think of it as when the professionals working on the project have dismissed all of the standard ways of doing things and are embarking on work that will generate new knowledge. This might be during the planning phase, if the technical uncertainties are known from the beginning, or it might be during the research or development phases, once all of the established ways have been tested and shown not to work.
Once you understand what your technical uncertainties are, the end of a project becomes a lot clearer. The project ends when these technical uncertainties have been resolved, so at the point where, for example, a working prototype has been produced or the process shown to produce the required outcome. You can’t claim for spending to, for example, make the prototype look nice once you’ve worked out how to make it work.
The last thing to bear in mind is that the end isn’t always the end! A company might develop something and resolve all of their technical uncertainties, only to find that the final product doesn’t quite meet specification. If the redesign or rework throw up more technical uncertainties, the R&D starts again!
A question we’ve been asked several times recently is, ‘how will taking up any of the current coronavirus business support funding affect a company’s ability to claim for R&D tax relief in future?’.
The short answer is that it depends on the funding. For example, the the ability to defer VAT payments won’t affect R&D claims. However, for the grant-based support schemes and the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme it’s a little more complicated.
The long answer starts with a quick round-up of the rules around State Aid. Essentially, under EU rules, which we are bound by until at least the 31st December 2020, most State Aid is illegal because it distorts competition. However, the European Commission acknowledges that this is not always the case, and ‘good’ aid can be allowed as long as it uses certain mechanisms and is approved by the Commission.
So, it’s likely that most, if not all, of the grant-based support currently offered by the UK government to support businesses through the disruption caused by coronavirus will be classed as State Aid. The big problem is that these schemes have been fast-tracked, and therefore most haven’t been fully assessed or approved by the European commission. We do know that the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme will be classed as notified State Aid.
The other factor to consider is the definition of ‘de minimis’ aid. For funding to be classed as ‘de minimis’ it cannot exceed €200,000 over a rolling three-year period. This could mean, for example, that the £10,000 and £25,000 grants to small businesses in receipt of rates relief would be classed as ‘de minimis’, whereas the larger grants, for example the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, may be notified State Aid.
As you know from our previous blogs (‘Is it better to take a grant or rely on R&D tax relief to help fund research and development‘ and ‘Don’t get bamboozled by grants’), the SME R&D tax relief scheme in the UK is classed as State Aid. Therefore, taking State Aid in the form of grants prevents a company claiming for all of their eligible R&D expenditure under the SME scheme.
How badly a company’s claim for R&D tax relief is affected by the coronavirus grant funding will depend on two things: what type of state aid the funding is deemed to be, and whether the funding is used to pay for R&D. In the current circumstance, the latter point will be difficult to argue, unless the company has suspended its R&D activities for the duration of the crisis.
This means that it’s really important for companies to note which R&D projects were live at the point of receiving any of the government funding. Any projects that are not live during the crisis or start after the funding is received should not be affected.
For the remaining projects, it’ll then come down to whether the funding is ‘de minimis’. If it is, only the amount of the grant will have to be claimed through the RDEC scheme. If it turns out to be notified State Aid, then the full eligible costs of whatever project it is used to support would have to be claimed through RDEC.
Here at WhisperClaims we’re keeping a close eye on the situation. We’ll update our users as and when more information is available, and will make sure that the app is updated to cover whatever funding scenarios result from the current situation.
As corona virus continues to spread many of our customers have told us that, come what may, they’ll be doing their utmost to help their SME clients stay in business and are focusing on those most in need of assistance. Fully appreciating the huge stress that some people are coming under, this got us thinking about specific ways we could help.
To help take the strain off our most time-pressed accountancy customers, for the next eight weeks we’ll be dedicating resources to:
This will allow you to fast-track companies who haven’t claimed before.
For the next 8 weeks we’re also relaxing our licensing rules to allow up to 10 people to use WhisperClaims for the price of 3 users. This enables not just the tax team to use it, but also staff who’re really close to your clients, such as Client or Account Managers.
We’re happy to on-board and train those new staff too, so that they hit the ground running, ensuring that all eligible companies in your portfolio get the R&D support they’re entitled to as quickly as possible.
We’ve also been asked by several customers in the last few days whether our team could play a more active role in the delivery of their service. Jen and Richard are ex-R&D consultants and this is well within our capabilities.
Richard founded an R&D consultancy company called Jumpstart, now AGBI Ltd, in 2008 and was responsible for building the consultancy team from scratch.
Jen’s got a PhD in Immunology and worked on the R&D claims of 100s of companies.
If required, we can undertake the following on your behalf, freeing up your time to spend with those who need it most.
If you want to discuss any of the above, you can get in touch on:
or 0800 211 8197.
We’re here to help.
Yesterday’s budget was good news all-round for companies undertaking R&D! Not only has the RDEC rate been increased, but the looming PAYE cap on the payable SME tax credit has been delayed until April 2021, much to the relief of many small companies that rely on subcontractors to carry out their R&D.
The big R&D related announcement was the increase in RDEC. This means that large companies and SMEs with grants or other subsidised expenditure will now receive a benefit of just over 10.5% of their eligible spend on R&D, receiving £105.30 for every £1000 spent. This had been widely reported ahead of the budget, and will be welcomed by all RDEC claimants.
However, hidden in the detail of the budget was a more significant point for many SME claimants – the changes announced in budget 2018 that were expected to come into force in April 2020 have been delayed until April 2021. The proposed changes would have restricted the cash credit payable to three times a company’s NIC and PAYE liabilities for the year. For small, loss-making start-ups that often rely on subcontractors rather than paying salaries this would have been a major blow, so we welcome the delay and potential redesign of the cap.
Other than these points, the increase in employment allowance to £4000, coupled with recent changes that we detailed here will mean that SME claimants will be up to £130 better off.
Lastly, the government pledged to increase public investment in R&D to £22bn a year by 2025. While the specifics of how this will be spent are yet to be fully revealed, it’s great to see more money going into innovative work and research in the UK.
Stay up to date with news on the R&D tax relief scheme by subscribing to the WhisperClaims newsletter.
Jen Badger, our Operations Director, is a go-to member of the WhisperClaims team for R&D tax relief knowledge and updates to the scheme. A recent announcement about changes to Employment allowance got us scratching our heads so we sent Jen out to investigate.
Employment allowance was introduced in 2014 as an incentive to employers to hire staff, and consists of £3000 to offset against Class 1 secondary NICs (National Insurance Contributions). Although it was successful, the flat rate nature of the allowance meant that it was unattractive to larger employers. This has led to the Government making changes to target the allowance at smaller employers.
From April 2020, EA will only be available to employers who paid less than £100,000 in employer’s NIC payments in the previous year, and will have to be applied for every year. So, far, so straightforward. However, there is a more significant change for small companies that have received grants, or who plan to claim R&D tax relief – EA is now a ‘de minimis’ state aid.
This small change could have a big impact on small companies. Under state aid rules, a company can only receive €200,000 of ‘de minimis’ aid over a rolling three year period, so any employer that has received ‘de minimis’ aid will have to make sure that claiming EA will not push them over this threshold, and may be prevented from applying for further funding on this basis.
As for how this will affect claims for R&D tax relief, the current answer appears to be ‘who knows?’! We asked HMRC’s R&D tax team, and they told us that they haven’t be advised of any changes, and to continue to claim as usual. Employer’s NICs are an allowable cost in an R&D tax claim, but up until these changes the amount of EA received could not be included.
This seemed fair – the claimant company hadn’t actually spent this money, and it wouldn’t be shown as a revenue cost in the accounts.
However, now that this allowance is a ‘de minimis’ state aid, it will feature in the company accounts, and will affect, for example, the company’s ability to apply for further funding, we’d argue that it should be included in a claim for R&D tax relief as subsidised expenditure.
This would allow an SME to claim for up to an additional £3000 through the RDEC scheme, increasing their claim by £291. That might not seem much, but for many small companies, every little really does help!
Of course, this small increase in benefit is meaningless if it increases the time and effort involved in making a claim. Happily, at WhisperClaims we’re constantly checking for legislative changes that impact how R&D claims are made, and making sure that our system is up to date. This means our users will be able to seamlessly change the way they claim for NICs and employment allowance, enabling them to maximise their client’s claim with the minimum of effort.
We know that some of you will be turning off your laptops and starting the festivities very soon, we want to wish you a merry and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.
We’re going to take some time to put our feet up over the holidays, but will still be available to support you on the phone and by email. The only days we won’t be contactable will be the 25th and 26th December and the 1st and 2nd of January. Otherwise, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
We’ve really enjoyed working with you in 2019, and look forward to a great 2020!
Somewhat incredibly, as we find ourselves staring hungrily down the mince-pie-studded path towards Christmas, the cheeky green shoots of 2020 are clearly visible through the faded, well-trodden lawn of 2019. So what’s happened over the year in terms of HMRC’s R&D tax relief scheme – and what’s coming next?!
Well, it’s certainly no news that the R&D scheme overall continues to expand like a festive waistline. HMRC’s stats, released in October, showed that the projected cost of support for the 17/18 year is approaching £5bn, largely fuelled by growth in new SME applicants and the huge R&D budgets of Large Companies.
What is more newsworthy is how you, our WhisperClaims customers, are having a positive effect on that fast-growing SME market. This year, we’ve watched as a broad variety of accountancy firms and consulting companies have sat through software demos, launched trials, and thought deeply about how to integrate R&D technology into their business processes – all with the aim of being able to profitably cater to that ever-growing demand from SMEs.
Looking across the cohort of our 2019 customers, the firms (and consulting companies) that have achieved the best results are those that have:
This person is typically enthusiastic about technology and motivated to see it adopted within their organisation. They quickly become an expert user of the software, often running classes and workshops to motivate and educate their colleagues. In some cases this is a partner or business owner, in others it’s a manager who’s seen the benefits of using our system and is evangelising it across the firm.
Software doesn’t work in a vacuum, and depends on the aims, attitudes and skills of the people using it. The most successful firms have invested time in designing business processes around the software, giving staff clarity on how R&D work should be streamed between different delivery routes. For them, the software isn’t necessarily a magic ‘one size fits all’ solution, but part of a blended R&D service portfolio that spans pure-software to pure-consultancy.
The most proactive firms have trained up their Client Managers to recognise R&D at a high level, even developing scoring systems that allow prospects to be objectively rated before being entered onto the system or passed to a centralised specialist within the firm.
Finally, we’ve seen several firms set ambitious ‘digital’ targets (i.e. claims prepared through software) for R&D, both for existing clients and new business. Growth targets, coupled with internal competition between teams, can be highly effective in raising activity and motivation.
In general, the customers who’ve seen the biggest growth in their R&D service, and their profitability, are those who have utilised our service to deliver a highly differentiated and cost effective offering to those smaller SME’s that are dominating HMRC’s stats.
Looking ahead to 2020, what trends do we expect to see? Some are obvious (the scheme will continue to grow, of course), and also, we’d expect to see more accountants take R&D work back in-house, reducing their reliance upon external R&D consultants and earning more in the process. This growing trend of empowerment will heighten the already fierce competition between the specialists, resulting in ever more expensive PPC (Google advertising) costs for common online searches, incentivizing them to invest in other, more content-focused forms of marketing that will inevitably attract even more SMEs to the scheme. The SMEs, meanwhile, will gradually begin to realize that they have more options than simply shopping around for the lowest contingent rate, and we’d expect to see WhisperClaims accountants and consultants increasingly offering R&D as a fixed-price service to take advantage of this.
In short, it’s going to be quite a bustling marketplace in 2020 – even before the as-yet-unknown political impacts of the election are felt.
As for the team at WhisperClaims, there will be exciting changes afoot here too! We have a raft of new features to launch and will be investing heavily in the system’s ‘User Experience’ to make the software as intuitive, useful and convenient to use as we possibly can. We’ll also be staffing up, taking on new developers and boosting the remainder of the team as we continue to scale up. We’ll be launching and delivering a raft of new top-up consultancy services, designed to help our customers plug any gaps they may have in their teams by giving them access to very specialized services that build upon the capabilities of the software itself.
Before WhisperClaims, Richard was a Founder-Director of a large, Edinburgh-based R&D tax credit consultancy. With 9 years’ R&D experience and a Software Engineering degree, Richard works closely with our developers to ensure that the products we build are a perfect fit for our customers.
We’ve all been there. You’re snowed under with work, whether that’s dealing with company year ends and or the looming horror of personal tax deadlines, when you realise that there’s a whole pile of R&D tax claims that you should be dealing with. Your heart sinks. You think about how hard it is to get the information out of the client, how time consuming writing reports is, and how it really is time to make sure everyone in the office has been trained in how to prepare R&D claims. You throw your hands up and declare that there must be a better way!
You are, of course, right. There are always ways to improve and optimise your process, and, being the helpful people that they are, Jen and Richard (our WhisperClaims R&D tax relief gurus) have pulled together some tips on how you might get started!
We know that getting information out of your clients can be difficult and frustrating. To avoid unnecessary repetition and to and fro, we recommend developing a structured set of questions to ask you clients about both the projects and costs. Making sure you work through the same questions each time makes sure that nothing is missed and there’s no need to keep going back to the client for more information.
There many ways to make gathering client data more straight forward. During the claim period, it can be helpful to encourage your client to gather and submit project information as they go along. Having shared access to online file-storage, like Dropbox, can make this easy, straightforward and, most importantly, secure.
The more people in your office that can work on R&D claims, the more the burden can be shared! We recommend making sure that you offer robust training in the CIRD guidance and the mechanics of putting together a claim to anyone with a client-facing role.
Even once you’ve been able to gather the information from your client, you still need their input in reviewing and approving the claim. Making sure that the client can access the information as you pull it together can be a massive help with this, as the client is already in the loop and can give immediate sign-off once the claim is ready.
Even with a well-trained team and a slick information gathering process, you still have to invest the time in writing a robust technical narrative to support the claim. No matter what, this isn’t a trivial task, and is a great candidate for automation.
WhisperClaims is designed to take the pain out of not only gathering information, but automates report production, meaning that a report can be generated within an hour. It’s also a great tool for educating your team in the intricacies of R&D tax claims, and can allow you to work with your client in real-time, overcoming the toing-and-froing that plagues anyone preparing a claim.
If you are already using WhisperClaims you can find the login page here.
Take the burden out of R&D tax claims preparation. Our award-winning R&D software makes it easy to prepare a claim, works directly from your data, and creates reports that have been specifically designed to be clear, concise, fit for purpose and as free from red flags and elephant traps.
It’s always nice to catch up with WhisperClaims users. This month we met with Northern Accountants to talk about their recent expansion into R&D tax relief consultancy using WhisperClaims technology and how they used this to identify over £250,000 of tax benefit for their clients within 3 months.
We’re a general accountancy practice. We do all the sorts of stuff you would expect like accounts, tax, bookkeeping on a sort of basic level. We don’t have a tax team or a tax partner, so our tax knowledge is sufficient but not advanced. Fortunately, we don’t have any complicated clients so there’s no need to be more advanced.
We outsourced claims to a R&D specialist firm. If any of our clients mentioned R&D it was a case of: “Oh, right. Well, we’ll pass it their way and they can deal with it.”
What we ended up finding was that you get dragged into the conversations anyway. Yes, there’s a pay-away, and, yes, you get a cut in, but there’s still a lot of work to do. We seemed to be doing the bulk of the work, managing the client and managing the partner. So when WhisperClaims came along, it gave us a template and a structure to allow us to manage the process ourselves.
Yeah, about the same. The first one was a bit longer because we were learning how to use the software – we spent an hour and a half with the client inputting information into the system followed by some set up time to synchronise the data with our accounting system, nothing major.
When the claim came through the client was over the moon – he received £15,000.
We are currently putting claims through for 9 clients and the tax benefit comes in at over £250,000, which is a substantial amount for our clients.
I’m part of a Mastermind group with other accountants from different firms. One thing we do is share wins that we’ve had and someone was talking about the successes he’d had with WhisperClaims and R&D.
We contacted WhisperClaims and set up a demonstration. They showed me around the system about a year ago. We said we’d start in January once some claims had backed up … and we did!
We liked the simplicity of it. It plugged a specialist tax knowledge gap that we didn’t have within the team.
Moving consultancy in-house and using WhisperClaims technology meant that we were able to claim tax benefit for our clients within 28 days from submission to HMRC. It was closer to 45 days when we were outsourcing the work to R&D tax specialists.
What always held the R&D specialists up was the extraction of the financial information. The client wouldn’t know what to do so they’d get us involved. The back and forth was time consuming, so it’s much quicker just to do the work ourselves.
R&D wasn’t on our radar as a primary sort of consideration. That meant that R&D didn’t get talked about with our clients enough.
We’ve now got 15 clients who we are doing R&D with. We have an equipment company that has built a massive CRM; a software development company; a property agent that’s built their own software platform; a food manufacturer; an IT company; a tripe reseller and so on. That’s 15 sets of clients who hadn’t been claiming R&D and potentially could have been.
You could argue that before we were doing R&D, we were letting our clients down to a degree. We’re now able to talk to them about claiming and can put that opportunity in front of people.
Our clients give us lot of appreciation for this and they tell their friends about us: “My accountant got me £15k back from an R&D claim”. All of a sudden, someone’s mate wants to get involved. Somebody rang us the other day and asked us if we’d do an R&D claim for his mate because his current accountant wouldn’t do it.
I think we can build quite a good referral network off our existing client base and, potentially, smaller accountants. With smaller firms, technically, we could go and say: “Look, we’ll partner up with you. We’re no threat to your company. We’ll do your R&D if you’ve got any clients who want this” and they become introducers to us.
I also want to do more to educate our client managers on how to find new business. We met with a food manufacturer yesterday who are trying to do some really innovative stuff with infused sausage rolls. It’s funny but we need to find those types of projects.
It’s crazy, I’d say over a quarter of a million in total. If not more.
If we weren’t offering R&D consultancy that money wouldn’t have been recovered. It would have been lost.
It has created a bit of a buzz about the office. When we landed our first claim – I think it was a £22,000 claim – there was quite a big buzz about it. As daft and boring as that sounds, the team were quite buoyed by that. Lots more claims are being made by other members of the team outside of me. They’re now starting to think: “We can do a decent thing here. We can help with that.”
Before we started using WhisperClaims and doing consultancy in-house, our team knew about R&D because they’re all accountants. They understood it and the concept of it, but it’s one of those topics that you cover and then never really touch on again. Whereas, I think now, our ability to service clients is much better.
100%. I mean, we’re very fortunate in our team that they do care about the clients they’re working with. When we told Sean, our client manager, that we were dropping £15k into his client’s bank account, he was over the moon for his client. It’s one of those nice feelings rather than just: “There’s your tax bill of £15k“.
We’re changing the structure of our organisation because, historically, our client managers purely just did compliance. Now they’re having R&D conversations with people so our team will have to familiarise themselves with the software. That means there’s an upskill area that we’ll need to work on. The guys at WhisperClaims are helping us with some of that through educational tutorials and written guidelines.
We’re also really committed to technology. Our team have got trust in our view on that. If we say it’s good, it’s going to be good. We’ve demonstrated that with Xeros, Receipt Banks, Chasers … all of that. We’ve demonstrated how technology can help them in their day-to-day job.
It gives us, as the accountants, control and it rewards us appropriately for the work that we do. So by having complete control over a claim, and being rewarded appropriately for it, it gets the due care and attention that it should. It also gives the firm a focus to deliver the claim because the return is big, especially with the WhisperClaims subscription and reporting fee being so reasonable.
It brings a cash injection into your business and gives you so many opportunities to do other things that you might not have been able to do before. From my point view, most opportunities are missed because people don’t have cash reserves. Growth needs investment. So this helps put cash into the accountancy practice to help us grow in other areas.
Technology makes you more efficient, saves you more time, and makes you more money.
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Last month we hit a really important milestone here at WhisperClaims … it was our one year anniversary! Yay! Now, we’re a modest team but one year is kinda special and we decided a small intimate celebration with blue and white balloons wouldn’t quite hit the mark.
So a vote was counted, it was unanimous, let’s go full celebrity and take it to the media like the divas we really are! A few days later our news spread to the press and we basked in our moment of fame!
While all of this helped to massage our egos a little, a sudden realisation dawned on us … we hadn’t actually told anyone about our story and who we are! (Cue a blog post about the light bulb moment when WhisperClaims came to be!)
So let us introduce our team…
Here’s Mike Dean, Richard Edwards, Jen Badger and Rick Henry, our four directors.
Richard, Jen and Mike met when working at a successful Edinburgh-based R&D tax consultancy, founded by Richard in 2008. During Mike’s time as interim Sales Director, he noticed key trends in the R&D tax market, most notably the high number of claimants that were being turned away because their claims were too small to be economically processed by consultants. All three founders felt that automating the process of preparing R&D tax claims would be hugely beneficial to the industry, enabling smaller companies to access support and advisors to expand their offering.
While Richard and Jen took time out to polish up their technical skills and gain experience of software development and Agile management, Mike formed Whisperclaims and began gathering feedback on the idea of an automated, cloud-based system for the preparation of R&D tax claims.
Meanwhile, through his training at Codeclan, Richard met Rick Henry, our future Technical Director, and persuaded him to work with us to build the system.
Having gained all of the necessary skills and found a great developer, WhisperClaims was up and running! The prototype system was ready for testing within three months, and a few friendly accountants and consultants were recruited to help us test and refine the system. After only a few weeks of testing, the first claims were prepared and invoiced, and, more importantly, submitted to HMRC.
Having validated the concept and process, we set about building a front end and dashboards to create a great user experience. WhisperClaims officially launched in September 2018, and immediately gained traction. Rick Henry became Technical Director in October, and we were awarded ‘Best Use of Innovation’ at the UK Business Tech Awards in November 2018, which was amazing recognition of the hard work we’d put in up to that point.
Through 2019, WhisperClaims has gone from strength to strength. Highlights have included expanding our team, with our first additional developer, Upul, joining in January…
Suz, our Sales Coordinator, in April…
Then Gillian our Marketing Manager in June…
We won ‘Emerging Fintech of the Year’ at the Scottish Accounting and Financial Technology Awards in May, and were shortlisted for two awards at the Scottish Fintech Awards 2019.
One year on, we have over forty subscribed customers – from one-man band accountants to top 30 accountancy firms and leading R&D tax consultancies. That number has continued to grow every month since our anniversary.
While strutting our stuff down the streets of Edinburgh last week during a press photoshoot, we suddenly found ourselves forming a line-up that (with eyes a little squinted) might resemble something from the front cover of a well-known Beatles album or gangster movie. Though we may not be quite in the same league as the Beatles … yet (come on, there’s nothing wrong with ambition!) … our little moment of fame give us a good chuckle and offered us some well deserved time-out to reflect on what has been an amazing year. Here’s to 2020 and what that might bring.
Our fully automated, scalable and white-labelled software is capable of producing all the documentation needed to support an R&D claim within an hour. It is designed for business advisors of all kinds, including Accountants and R&D Tax Consultants.
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