The aim of a technical narrative should be to convince HMRC that the claim is valid and answer any questions they might have about the claim, without raising any red flags.
The narrative should briefly cover the key points that HMRC are interested in:
Once you’ve covered these four points, you’re most of the way there!
Stick to the technical facts! HMRC don’t really care about the commercial aspects of the projects, so stick to talking about the underlying technology.
Keep it short! The best technical narratives tell HMRC exactly what they need to know and no more. The longer the report, the information HMRC have to ask questions about, and the more likely you’ll include irrelevant or commercial facts and figures.
Link to the costs. It’s always best to include some mention of how your technical narrative links to the costs included in your CT600 so that HMRC can see how the two hang together.
Leave no stone unturned… Having said that it’s best to keep the technical narrative short, we’d recommend including short, factual statements to demonstrate to HMRC that the claim has been thoroughly analysed and well put together. For example, even if a company didn’t receive any grants during the claim period, it’s still good practice to state that this is the case, indicating to HMRC that you understand the guidance and what is required.
Include lots of padding. HMRC aren’t concerned about the qualifications of the person pulling the claim together, or reading long descriptions of the history and financial successes of the claimant company. In fact, including too much irrelevant information could make it look like you’re trying to hide something!
Focus on the commercials. As stated above, the technical narrative should be a technical narrative. Don’t include any information about the commercial aspects of the claimant company’s business unless it is directly relevant to the claim. Including too much of this kind of information can confuse the narrative and could lead HMRC to conclude that ineligible commercial costs have been included in the claim.
Blind the reader with science. Remember that you’re writing your report for an HMRC inspector who is unlikely to be an expert in the relevant field of science or technology. Make sure that the report is written in clear, easy to understand language, and avoid using too many technical terms or jargon. This way, the inspector can understand exactly why the claim is eligible without having to ask for expert help.
When we designed the WhisperClaims app, we started by thinking about the ideal technical narrative. We thought about what questions it would need to answer, and what it would need to cover, and then we sat down and wrote it. It wasn’t until we’d perfected the report that we started building the app!
These days, every report produced by the WhisperClaims app is a descendant of that first, ideal report. Using WhisperClaims to produce your technical narratives makes sure that all reports are robust and consistent, and directly linked to the costs that you have entered.
Our ‘Accountants’ Guide to Preparing R&D Tax Claims’ offers helpful advice on the fundamentals of the R&D tax scheme.
As we all adjusted to the current normal and get settled into working from home, I saw a lot of posts and blogs where people shared their beautiful home working set-ups. They had actual desks! And plants! Now, here at WhisperClaims we pride ourselves on our honesty, and I can honestly say that my home working set-up does not involve a desk of any kind. In fact, my workstation has become ‘wherever I can see the children and still type effectively!’
To illustrate this point, I thought I’d give you an insight into how I prepared WhisperClaims’ FY2020 R&D tax claim:
5:00pm, on the sofa: Suddenly realise that the kids are quiet, and I have twenty minutes until I need to start cooking dinner.
Quickly sign in to WhisperClaims and set up our FY2020 claim.
9:00am, in the garden: PE with Joe.
9:30am, at the kitchen table: Gasp for air. Catch up with the team over Zoom.
10:00am, at the kitchen table: Attempt to start filling out the R&D claim question set.
10:03am: The bickering starts.
10:04am: Throw snacks into the living room.
10:10am: Realise the snacks are not enough. Gather broomsticks, blankets, doll, doll’s pushchair, frisbee, laptop and chair and head down to the garden.
10:15am-11:15am, in the garden: Sit shivering in garden wearing winter coat, hat and gloves. Fill out technical questions. Pull salary details from Xero and enter into the app.
11:15am – 11:30am, in the garden: The bickering starts again. Put laptop down and arrange timed laps of the lawn.
11:30am: Give up. Heave all of the stuff back into our second floor flat.
11:45 – 12:00, on the sofa: Sit awkwardly with a child on either side of me watching cartoons. Enter and apportion the rest of the R&D costs.
12:00pm – 12:30pm, in the kitchen: Feed the ravenous hordes.
12:30pm – 1:00pm: Rare moment of peace while kids do crafts. Make space in amongst the chaos of craft materials on the coffee table for my laptop. Check through R&D claim, finalise and download report. Email to accountant while the going is good….
And that, my friends, was that. Half a day, two and a quarter hours of actual work, two happy-ish children and a complete R&D claim sent to our accountant – not bad at all!
Our fully automated, cloud-based software is capable of producing all the documentation needed to support an R&D claim – no matter where you’re located!
Or get in touch to find out more about WhisperClaims.
From time to time, before switching to WhisperClaims, Accountants often approach us looking for a second opinion on R&D claims reports prepared either by themselves or another provider. It’s a good way for them to get a second opinion, which helps to mitigate against HMRC enquiries, and, it keeps us current on how the guidance is being interpreted by the industry. All very positive!
Every now and again we do come across a report that makes us wince! There are some common mistakes that we thought we’d pull together and share with you – these are major misinterpretations of the guidelines that we recommend you avoid!
A report we recently reviewed had a whole section dedicated to establishing the technical baseline for the client’s projects, which is exactly what HMRC like to see. However, this section was full of commercial details about the company and the industry, and actually undermined the claim from the beginning by establishing that the company did standard work using off-the-shelf components, which is completely ineligible!
Reports that use the phrase ‘trial and error’ multiple times to describe the work that the company does to establish which combination of components perform best for each application, can be a problem. Trial and error is almost always ineligible. To quote CIRD81900, ‘improvements, optimisations and fine-tuning which do not materially affect the underlying science or technology do not constitute work to resolve scientific or technological uncertainty’.
This point is more common than you might imagine – an example being a company that has decided to upgrade their CRM system and claimed work as R&D. A report we recently reviewed detailed the analysis they did of available systems before making the choice to go with an off the shelf system. If they’d done this work and then discovered that there was no available system that was technically capable of doing what they needed, they might have had a claim, but installing and optimising a standard system is not an advance in worldwide science or technology. Again, CIRD81900 states, ‘A process, material, device, product or service will not be appreciably improved if it simply brings a company into line with overall knowledge or capability in science or technology, even though it may be completely new to the company or the company’s trade.’
Reports that list a number of ‘technical uncertainties’ including uncertainty regarding whether a project could be completed within the allocated budget. This is absolutely not a technical uncertainty by HMRC’s definition – ‘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.’
Red flag words used throughout a report, including ‘fine-tuning’, ‘trial and error’, ‘optimisation’ and ‘bespoke’. The quote in section two (above) explains why the first three of these should be avoided. ‘Bespoke’ is one we’ve learned is a red flag from our experience of claims and conversations with HMRC – it implies that the work done is specific to the company and doesn’t constitute a worldwide advance in science and technology.
The key thing to remember is that these issues are easily avoidable if you take the time to get to know HMRC’s guidelines, and make sure that your reports are produced by either people or systems that know what they’re doing. Here at WhisperClaims we put a lot of time and effort into making sure that our reports are robust, accurate and compliant with HMRC’s guidelines!
If you’re not already a WhisperClaims subscriber and want to explore our system or get a second opinion on how you are currently preparing claims, please feel free to get in touch. We’re happy to help!
In these days of increased digitisation, working from home and generally more spread out teams and working practices, it can be difficult to pin down a time when all relevant people are available to meet face to face. In the case of preparing an R&D tax claim, this can be particularly acute given the need for senior members of the management team to be in attendance.
Happily, there are a plethora of specific and less specific digital tools you can take advantage of to make sure that you can remotely deliver the great R&D tax claim service that your clients expect. Here’s our guide on how WhisperClaims can help you to get the best out of your tools and clients and make sure you prepare accurate and robust R&D claims remotely.
Tools like Zoom and Skype have made it very easy to have ‘face to face’ meetings from anywhere! In preparing R&D tax claims, this enables you to talk through all of the work done in the claim period and gather as much information as possible in one go. It’s usually possible to record these calls too, so you won’t forget anything that you were told! However, there are some downsides. It’s easy to forget to ask key questions, and it can be difficult to verbally gather accurate information on costs. To mitigate this, you can have the WhisperClaims claim open in the background and enter the information as you go along, but this can lead to a more stilted conversation as you read out all of the options to your client!
Rather than read out the questions or risk missing vital information, many of our clients opt to share screens through tools like Zoom. Working this way your client can see the WhisperClaims question set and can give you the exact information you need, while you retain control of the software and enter the answers yourself. This is how we do a lot of our training and demonstration calls, and it can be a great way to gather information. However, it can mean taking up a chunk of yours and your client’s time, and you can only complete as much information as your client has available on the call.
Many of our users prepare R&D tax claims remotely using our collaboration feature. This allows them to invite clients to directly access the system by themselves and answer the technical and costs questions in their own time, saving huge amounts of time. Their answers can then be reviewed remotely, checking that everything they have entered is accurate and in line with the scheme guidelines before downloading the report.
Our users have used this methodology to drive complexity and time out of existing processes, or simply to avoid losing control over the claim by outsourcing to specialists. It’s a win-win for them and their clients as it means an efficient, cost effective service that allows the client to get best value access to this increasingly important tax relief.
Of course, in reality our clients use a combination of all of these methods to deliver the best and most appropriate service to their clients!
However you decide to use WhisperClaims, we’re here to give you support, advice and training to make sure you’re using the app in the best possible way.
We’ve written before about how grants can affect a claim for R&D, but even knowing this, it can still be tricky to work out whether it’s better to take a grant or rely on R&D tax relief to help fund R&D. It’s a tricky decision to make, but considering the following points should make it easier!
Grants are usually paid out in arrears, often on a quarterly basis. From a cashflow point of view, this means that a grant holder will see the benefit far closer to when the money is spent than with R&D tax relief. Depending on how quickly a company can pull together their accounts, R&D tax claim, tax comps and CT600 form, it can be over a year between spending money on R&D and seeing any tax benefit.
Another point to remember is that grants are often paid out in cold, hard cash, whereas R&D tax relief is often realised as a reduction in tax payable. Where this is usually of huge benefit to the company in the long term, it doesn’t offer the immediate positive effect on cashflow of a grant.
A claim for R&D tax relief has no mandatory reporting requirements. All a claimant needs to produce is a technical justification and a calculation of eligible expenditure once a year, and they’re done!
On the other hand, grant reporting can be time-consuming, lengthy and repetitive. Grant holders are usually required to submit details of expenses, milestones and project outcomes regularly during the lifetime of the grant, and even beyond this.
Overall though, it’s usually best to both claim R&D tax relief and as many grants as possible to maximise R&D funding. However, it is important to know where the tipping point is, when taking the grant it will mean that the company is worse off overall. It’s a fairly complex calculation, but really only requires knowledge of the type and size of the grant and the expected spend on R&D.
Here’s a quick chart to show how grants affect the benefit received by a profitable company with an eligible R&D spend of £150,000. As an SME, this company would receive approximately £37,000 in R&D tax relief if they didn’t receive any grant funding.
First thing to note is that a company should always take a ‘de minimis’ grant if possible – a company receiving this type of grant and claiming R&D tax credits will always be better off. That’s because it’s only the amount of the grant that has to be claimed through RDEC, and all of the rest of the cost can be claimed through the SME scheme.
Second thing to note is that it’s a little more complicated when it comes to state aid grants. These grants push the whole project cost into the RDEC scheme for R&D tax, so taking a small grant can mean being worse off overall. For our example company, a grant of less than about £22,000 would actually cost them money, as they’d get a better return from just claiming R&D tax relief.
So, what does this all mean to an advisor? Well, the key thing is to make sure that you know what grants your client is thinking of applying for so that you can advise them on how this will affect their cashflow and overall benefits. The good news is WhisperClaims is set up to deal with all types of grants and make sure that the correct amounts of expenditure are routed through the SME and RDEC schemes, meaning that you can rest assured that your client’s claims are robust and defensible.
So, your company has taken the plunge and signed up to trial WhisperClaims to prepare your R&D tax claims, and you’re raring to go!
Your next step is to get the rest of your firm onboard. Well, while we won’t pretend to be experts on change management, we’ve pulled together this quick guide to help make your job easier.
How does your company currently handle the preparation of R&D claims? Is there a defined process? Do you use a third party provider?
The first step to successful adoption of WhisperClaims is to work out how and where it can add value. Spend time really pulling apart how things are currently done, and look for gaps, bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Once you’ve identified these, you can look at how WhisperClaims could help. If, for example, you’ve been turning down opportunities because the claims are too small to be economically viable, think about how WhisperClaims could be used to remove costs from the process. On the other hand, if you currently outsource everything, think about how and when this can be brought back in house.
Ok, you’ve worked out how WhisperClaims can actually help your team. Now it’s time to find yourself a hero! It might have to be you, or you might have to persuade someone from the team to join you, but having a champion could be key to the whole endeavour. They’ll need to have good rapport with the team, be excited about WhisperClaims, and, for maximum success, be generally skeptical about change. If you can persuade the most cynical member of your team to be your champion, you’re half-way there!
Right, it’s time to start training! Make sure you pitch the training at the right level – experienced teams won’t need a primer on the R&D scheme, for example, whereas if the team have never directly done an R&D claim, then diving straight into the software might leave them confused and more resistant than ever.
Make sure that you, and your champion, are clear on what pace your team will need in order to build their confidence. Some members of your team may find change overwhelming, so this will be your chance to show that you understand their needs and to get people on board.
Hopefully the training will have gone a long way towards getting the team’s buy-in for WhisperClaims, but you’ll probably still want to continue to work on this. Take the time to sense-check your plans with the team, and ask how they think WhisperClaims could be best used. Don’t let them override your plans, but do be prepared to make adjustments to include the team’s input and ideas.
Ok, your plan has been optimised and the team are onboard – it’s time to get going! At this point, it’s a good idea to identify a particular subset of claimants to trial the software with. This might be new claimants only, or just smaller claims, but the key thing is to make sure that enough claims are put through WhisperClaims to give you enough data to analyse the effects of using the software.
Once the trial is complete, it’s time to look at the results. How much time or money was saved? Were your clients satisfied with the process and output? How did the team feel about using it? Make sure to celebrate the success of the trial, and reward the team members that engaged with WhisperClaims. Show a league table, publish stats on profitability, give out chocolate – whatever it takes to get the final buy-in from your team!
So, you’ve convinced the team, tested the tool and refined the process. All you need to do now is roll it out far and wide. Work with your team to identify potential claimants, market R&D tax relief services to your client base and start putting as many claims as possible through the system!
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It’s statistics time again! That one hallowed day of the year when I get to take off my Operations Director hat and let out my inner scientist. The annual Research and Development Tax Credit Statistics have been released, and, as usual, they make very interesting reading.
Now, from this point, I could just copy and paste the blog I wrote last year, because the trends in the data are remarkably consistent. The 20% year-on-year increase in the number of claims continues, as does the rise in first time claimants, which is great news for us and the R&D tax relief industry as a whole. However, I’m more interested in digging further into the stats, and looking at how they can be used and manipulated.
One statistic that all R&D tax relief specialists will tell you is that the average tax benefit from an R&D claim for FY2017-18 is £54,000. They’re not lying. If you take the overall total paid out in R&D claims and divide it by the number of claims, you get that number. Great, you might think, I’ve got lots of clients who could claim R&D tax relief, and would be really happy with a payout of £54,000.
However, looking a bit harder, and you’ll see that a very different story emerges. In FY2017-18, 76% of SME scheme claimants received less than £50k in benefit. Looking specifically at this group, the average tax benefit is only £16k, a serious drop from the quoted £54k. That’s not to say that most claimants wouldn’t be happy with £16k in benefit, but they might if they were expecting three times that!
The other statistic you’ll see time and time again, often alongside the £54k figure, is a company claiming a ‘100% success rate’ with R&D claims. Sounds great, doesn’t it? But it all depends on your definition of success, and, just like the R&D stats, can easily be manipulated to the point of being meaningless.
So, why would we point this out? Well, partly because we love it when statistics and marketing are aligned and being used to tell compelling stories, and partly because we’re suckers for upfront honesty. While statistics aren’t always what they seem, we’ve expended a huge amount of time and energy in developing a system that is what it appears to be – a straightforward way to gather information from your clients and the means to prepare robust and editable R&D reports at the touch of a button. While your success rate may not be 100% (clients sometimes go bust or miss the deadline), at least you can be sure that you’re using a system that is specifically and unashamedly designed for one purpose – helping you to take effort and cost out of your R&D process while enhancing your clients’ experience of working with you.
Last week we were surprised and very flattered to find out that WhisperClaims has been included in the long-list for Business Cloud’s Scotland Tech 50. The aim of this award is to recognise the 50 most exciting, disruptive and impactful Tech companies in Scotland, so to even be nominated feels great! It’s extra special as it came out of the blue – no entry forms or nominations from us!
It’s especially mind-blowing to be included in a list alongside some of the biggest names in Scottish Tech – SkyScanner and Freeagent, to name just a couple. Having only been in business for little over a year, it’s incredible to be spoken of in the same breath as so many really successful companies.
Inclusion in the final list of 50 depends on both the votes of the judging panel and the result of a public vote, so if you feel that we fit the description of an exciting and disruptive company, we’d love your support!
Simply go to the Scotland Tech 50 website, scroll all the way to the bottom and click on WhisperClaims. Voting closes on 9th October at 11pm, so you’ll have to move fast. Fingers crossed!
Our Jen Badger gives us her heart-felt account of what it means to be shortlisted for the Scottish Financial Technology Awards a year on from the launch of WhisperClaims.
Back in August, we were thrilled to hear that, on the back of our winning ‘Emerging Fintech Company of the Year’ at the Scottish Accountancy and Financial Technology awards, we’d been nominated for two more! We’re up for the ‘Product Innovation’ and ‘Rising Star’ awards at the Scottish Financial Technology Awards.
As a software start-up, any and all recognition is special. You work hard designing, developing and building your product, making something you’re really proud of. Then you start trying to sell it, and suddenly expose your baby to the reality of the world. Fear sets in as you consider how people might respond to your product. But then soon enough, after all of that hard slog, you impress someone. In fact, you impress them so much, they actually nominate you for an award. It’s an amazing feeling.
This latest pair of nominations is particularly special. We set out to produce a truly innovative and disruptive product, so to be recognised in the product innovation category is great validation of our product and business model. WhisperClaims is the only fully automated R&D relief claim platform in the market, and it’s great to have the team’s innovative development work acknowledged. It’s also incredibly flattering, a year since officially launching WhisperClaims, to be listed alongside such well-established names as Autorek, Hymans Robertson and even RBS!
As for the rising star category, well, that’s exactly how we feel! Over the past three years, we’ve risen from three of us sitting around a dining room table, mapping out our ideas on endless sheets of paper, to a fully-fledged company. We’ve got paying customers, a great team and a strong vision for the future, with no plans to slow down!
Having said all of that, if you were to ask me what I’m most proud of over the past few years, it wouldn’t just be the awards and nominations. I’m proud of what we’ve built – a great product, a happy customer base, and, most importantly, a great team. With all of that, no matter how it goes on the night, I know we’ll continue to feel like winners.
If you find yourself at the Scottish Financial Technology Awards on Wednesday 25th September please don’t be shy. We’ll be there, so come say hi!
If we had £1 for every time we’ve been asked this by a client, we’d (pauses to count on fingers) be rich! Seriously, it’s a common question, and one that’s surprisingly difficult to answer with more than an “it depends”.
The Government’s own guidance points out that R&D tax relief is not just for ‘white coat’ scientific research, as you might expect, but also for ‘brown coat’ development work in design and engineering involving overcoming difficult technological problems. However, this just broadens the scope and makes identifying eligible clients harder!
If you were to ask us which of your clients definitely don’t qualify for R&D tax relief, that’s pretty easy. You can immediately dismiss all of you clients that are not limited companies – goodbye sole traders and LLPs! Once you’ve done that, we’d tell you to ignore any clients that are not going concerns, or already in administration – they’ll not be able to realise any benefit. The last easy filter is any companies that don’t have staff, and only pay the Directors dividends – unless you know that these companies have significant other costs, they won’t have expenditure to make a claim.
After these easy black and white answers, however, everything turns various shades of grey. You could start by focussing on the industries and sectors where the most claims are made – the three sectors covering technical, IT and manufacturing account for 70% of claims, according to HMRC’s statistics. There will be a rich vein of eligibility within this section of your client base, and it’s a great place to start.
So, you’ve filtered out your definitely ineligible clients, and identified your technical, IT and manufacturing clients – what now? How can you assess the rest of your client base? This is where your in-depth knowledge of your clients, their businesses and their particular problems comes in. No-one is better placed than you to identify the clients who have expanded their product range through innovation and product development; taken on new staff to work on research products; received grants linked to development; employed staff with R&D-related job titles, such as testers, engineers, developers and designers; spent a lot on contractors to help with problem-solving; included costs for subcontractors, development or R&D in their accounts; or seen an increase in wastage and cost-overruns.
Throughout this, you should bear in mind that qualifying work can include creating new processes, products or services, making appreciable improvements to existing ones, and even using science and technology to duplicate existing processes, products and services in a new way.
This assessment might seem daunting, even once you’ve filtered your list down to just those companies that you think are likely to be eligible. This is where WhisperClaims comes in – with its no obligation, real-time assessment of eligibility, you can enter the details of all of your potential claimants and let the system help you assess which of these to take forward, without incurring any additional costs.
So, why go to all this effort? Why make sure that all of your eligible clients are claiming? In short, because by not claiming, they’re missing out on a potentially lucrative payout for not very much work. Claimants can get back up to 33% of their eligible spend on R&D, and we’ve never met a company that wouldn’t welcome some extra income!
Last week we were thrilled to be awarded ‘Emerging Fintech Company of the Year’ at the Scottish Accountancy and Financial Technology Awards. We were up against stiff competition in the form of two of our Codebase neighbours – Float and Mark to Market, and were genuinely surprised when our name was read out!
Although this is not the first award we’ve won, it does feel the pretty special. Funding the business ourselves, taking a risk on developing our R&D tax platform from an idea, to a prototype, to real customers, and now gaining recognition from the Accountancy sector, the very people who use WhisperClaims every day, is just a fantastic feeling.
The judges feedback also gave us a buzz – they were impressed by the WhisperClaims platform and its potential to massively disrupt an existing market, and by our capacity for future growth, both things we’re very excited about too!