Why automation will help clear your end of financial year backlog

Deadlines have a nasty habit of sneaking up on us. It’s bad enough when we’re completely in control of our own workload, but when people dump things on us at the last minute, that’s when stress levels can go through the roof!

With personal tax deadlines in January, and around 25% of corporate tax returns due in December, accountants tend to be amongst those most familiar with this issue. This heady combination of recurring deadlines and a notoriously time-pressed professional services industry is perhaps why automation and digitisation technologies are only increasing in importance in the accountancy world.

Digitalisation and automation are not quite synonymous, though, with automation systems arguably being the more significant development. Starting with digitisation, systems like Teams and Zoom help us to communicate remotely and more safely, turning a manual process into an electronic one. Similarly, any firm using cloud file storage (like Google Workspace) is avoiding bulky, physical storage of information and instead benefitting from easily searchable and processable information. In neither case is the work being done for us, it’s just ‘doable’ in a more convenient or cheaper way.

Automation, meanwhile, represents work being done for us, and decisions being made on our behalf. Examples of this are machine learning (ML) systems (which fall under the broader umbrella of Artificial Intelligence) that have been trained to spot patterns of fraud in large datasets. The strengths of ML systems are that they are very consistent, and once trained are often better than experts at spotting very specific outcomes. Their weaknesses are that they need to be trained using a large number of examples and counter-examples, and users can mistrust the recommendations of what they see as a faceless and inscrutable ‘black box’. They also tend to be very expensive to develop, and work only in very specific applications.

So, while machine learning is exciting, it’s perhaps not directly relevant if you’re looking at the calendar and wondering how you’re going to process the contents of your inbox before you close the office for Christmas!

Automation systems, those that can take a manual task and do it for you, are likely to be far more useful in clearing your desk and inbox. Our own software, WhisperClaims, is a great example of this (if we do say so ourselves!). Say you get approached by a client who wants you to prepare a claim for R&D tax relief, all you’d need to do is to invite them to the software and let them work through the question set. If they’re ineligible for whatever reason, the system tells them why (saving you from being the bad guy). And if they are eligible, you can prepare their claim documentation at the touch of a button (see how this works here), as the system creates a report for HMRC directly from your client’s data. Our system isn’t asking you to do your manual process electronically, as with ‘digitising’ systems, but instead takes the load off you by gathering information from your client and writing the reports itself (for your approval, of course). After all, after the abject craziness of this year, everyone needs a break this Christmas, and automation helps that happen.

Create straight-forward technical reports through automation

Create technical reports at the click of a button by using WhisperClaims fully automated R&D claims preparation software.

See how it works here.

WhisperClaims’ take on the R&D Government Roadmap

Back in July this year, the Government published their long-term objectives for R&D, and gosh were they sweeping. Its stated aims are for the UK to be a ‘science superpower’, ‘to build the industries of tomorrow’ and to back the big bet ‘moonshots’ that will simultaneously break through the current boundaries of science and astonish the masses.

The plan is big, bold, and very high level. It’s full of promise (quite literally, with the words ‘We will…’ appearing 161 times). The document sets out the various strategies by which these lofty aims will be achieved, namely the creation of:

  • An R&D People and Culture Strategy, which aims to ‘increase the attractiveness and sustainability of careers throughout the R&D workforce’. This will ‘put the UK at the forefront of attracting, retaining and developing diverse, talented people and the teams that will be critical to delivering the government’s science superpower vision’;
  • A UK R&D Place Strategy, which will ‘unlock local growth and societal benefit from R&D across the UK’ and ‘drive place-based outcomes from our R&D system – accelerating our economic recovery, levelling up across the UK’;
  • A National Data Strategy, Geospatial Data Strategy, Defence and Security Industrial Strategy are also mentioned, with a juicy Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund thrown in for good measure.

All in all, the word ‘strategy’ appeared 27 times, while ‘implementation’ appeared only 3 times. “Hmm, interesting,” I thought, “what else could we glean from word occurrence counts?”

Being a Computer Science graduate with a fondness for statistics and data visualisation, I promptly shoved the entire UK Research and Development Roadmap document through a word map generator (wordclouds.com) to see if we could get a clearer summary of what the government was taking 60 pages of fairly dense text to tell us.

Word-Generated Diagram of the Government Roadmap

Unsurprisingly, ‘R&D’ is front and centre (132 mentions), but looking at the other words gives us a good sense of the document’s thrust. For example:

  • New (148 mentions) – The Government appears fairly keen on the ‘new’, specifically:
    • New medicines and treatments;
    • New ‘next-generation’ military capabilities;
    • New innovations and technologies in the private sector;
    • New growth sectors, such as AI, robotics and quantum technologies
    • New investment funds and programmes;
    • New knowledge exchange frameworks;
    • New and disruptive businesses;
    • New forms of funding, new investments, and new partnerships.
  • Across (96 mentions) – The document explains how the Government is keen to:
    • Incentivise universities and businesses to work together across the UK;
    • Involve pro-innovation voices from across the UK in innovation policy-making; and ‘Level up’ across the UK, trying to smooth out the high concentrations of R&D in the South and South East of England, in favour of the other regions.
  • Investment (80 mentions)
    • The Government commits to increase public investment in research and development (R&D) to £22 billion per year by 2024 to 2025;
    • It also aspires to increase UK investment in R&D to 2.4% of GDP by 2027;
    • There is a pledge to seek more overseas investment, and to invest more in the UK’s R&D infrastructure and institutions.

While it’s fun interacting with the document this way, it’s important to convey how heartening it is to see the Government recognising the importance of R&D; not just to private firms, but across our whole culture and society. Their aims may be ambitious—and it remains to be seen how many ‘moonshots’ will actually come to pass—but at least they are making a very clear signal of intent about not just supporting R&D in the UK, but actively driving it forward.

Why’s that important? Well, have a look at the chart below, taken from a report by the Office of National Statistics.

This shows what happens without a really strong, proactive and unrelenting Government focus on R&D – the percentage of GDP spent on R&D hovers consistently around 1.6 – 1.7%, which doesn’t compare that well with other countries.

Hopefully the Government will follow through on all the exciting ideas outlined in its Roadmap, and that these will be enough to move the needle from that baseline towards the target of 2.4% by 2027.

Richard Author Banner

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CBILs and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme

The financial icebergs headed straight towards the UK’s SME R&D tax credits

In direct response to the Coronavirus pandemic, in March 2020 the European Commission adopted a Temporary Framework that defined and standardised the ways in which Member States can use State Aid to keep their economies afloat. It is under this framework (which runs until 31 December 2020) that the Government rushed out the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS).

While these schemes have been enthusiastically welcomed by businesses, both CBILS and the BBLS are Notified State Aid, leading to concerns amongst our customers that this is going to cause some serious headaches for R&D-conducting SMEs in the not-too-distant future.

What’s the problem?

The problem is that R&D tax relief for SMEs is also a Notified State Aid, and State Aid rules prevent you using more than one form of Notified State Aid on the same project, even if they’re used at different times, and even if you pay the money back.  Just think about the consequences of that for a moment.

It means that:

  1. If you’ve been claiming SME R&D tax credits, you won’t be allowed to use CBILS/BBLS finance to support any project that has received SME R&D tax relief.
  2. If you haven’t been claiming for SME R&D tax credits yet, any project that you support using CBILS/BBLS won’t be eligible for SME R&D tax credits, either now or at any point in the future.

How will my clients be affected?

The impact of this is going to vary depending on the size of the SME, the number of R&D projects they have, and their ratio of R&D costs to total costs. To illustrate the likely impacts as clearly as possible, we’ve described a few different scenarios from our perspective:

Scenario 1

An SME with one R&D project. Most of their business expenditure relates to this single project, for which they’ve been claiming SME R&D tax relief. Let’s say that the SME spent £80k in the claim period, and £70k of this was on R&D expenditure for a single project.

CBILS example

Question: If the SME gets £50k from the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, how should it use this money? The answer is that because its single project has already received a Notified State Aid (in the form of SME R&D tax credits), it should only allocate the BBLS money to its non-R&D costs, or to new projects that haven’t received R&D tax relief. This leaves it in a difficult position – it can’t fund its major activity without breaking State Aid rules.

CBILs example 2

Scenario 2

Now let’s consider an SME with multiple R&D projects, none of which have received SME R&D tax credits. How should it best use its £50k of Bounce Back funding?

CBILs example 3

Well, the worst way to do it is to spread the £50k of BBLS money across its three R&D projects, as shown below:

CBILs example 4

Why is this bad? All of the SME’s three R&D projects have now received Notified State Aid, which means that the SME cannot claim R&D tax relief under the SME scheme. While the SME can still claim R&D tax relief on all three State-Aid-funded projects, this must be done through the less-generous R&D Expenditure Credit (RDEC) scheme, which is primarily used by large companies.

Scenario 3

So, what would’ve been a better way to use the £50k Bounce Back loan? Concentrating the £50k in as few projects as possible is the way to go. In the example below, the SME uses the £50k to fund Project 1, leaving Projects 2 and 3 unaffected by State Aid.

CBILs example 5

This means that the SME could claim R&D tax relief under the SME scheme for Projects 2 and 3, and R&D tax relief under the RDEC scheme for Project 1.

Scenario 4

What’s the best possible scenario?  If the SME is sufficiently large to have substantial running costs that have nothing to do with R&D at all, the best thing for it to do is to use its BBLS funding against those. For example, let’s say they have £80k of non-R&D costs and the same three projects as above.

CBILs example 6

This time, the SME uses the full £50k of BBLS against its non-R&D costs; this leaves its three R&D projects unaffected by Notified State Aid, meaning that it can claim through the SME R&D tax credit scheme for all of them.

Important things to remember about Notified State Aid and R&D projects

The key things to remember are:

  • SME R&D tax credits, CBILS and BBLS are all forms of Notified State Aid.
  • You can only use one form of Notified State Aid per project, for the entire lifetime of the project. You can’t pay back one form to get another.
  • The effect of using Notified State Aid on an R&D project is to push the entire project’s expenditure out of the SME scheme and into the RDEC scheme, which gives a return of about 13p per £1 (before tax) rather than the 25-33p per £1 of the SME scheme.
  • When allocating any form of State Aid to R&D projects, the golden rules are:
    1. If you can, first use the funding on non-R&D activities.
    2. Concentrate the remainder of the State Aid on as few R&D projects as possible.


SMEs in the UK are rushing towards CBILS and BBLS as ways to sustain their businesses until some form of economic normalcy returns. The problem is, very few are aware of how these schemes will affect their ability to claim for SME R&D tax relief, and many will inadvertently breach the rules. It’s not clear how HMRC will respond to that, but they may have little choice but to follow the rules as written. As always WhisperClaims will stay on top of this information and will feed back to you when more information is available.

4 commercial models for R&D consultancy adopted by accountants & consultants

Whether you’re an accountant or R&D Consultant, when it comes to delivering an R&D service to your clients, there’s a lot to consider. Delivering a great customer experience, clearly defining roles and responsibilities, managing expectations and getting it done on time are all important … but, what’s arguably even more important is making sure that the process works for you.

So what are your options and what’s best for you? Based on feedback from our customers, here’s a round-up of some observations on the various models for delivering R&D tax credit consultancy in 2020.


1. Full Outsourcing 

This is the starting point for many. Most specialist R&D consultants will offer a commission to accountants for referring work to them,  and this can be quite lucrative.


+ Convenience. You can concentrate on everything else on your plate, letting the specialist prepare the claim.

+ Good if you only see the occasional R&D claim e.g. 1-2 a year.

+ The specialist is usually (but not always!) responsible for defending the claim – at their cost – if HMRC raise an enquiry.


[-] Specialists are usually paid a % of the tax benefit. This means they are incentivised to make the claim as large as possible – regardless of the risks to your client. Many will ‘push the envelope’.

[-] Specialists have relationships with other accountants, and some of the accountants we speak to have had specialists refer their clients to someone else.

[-] If your client has a bad experience with the specialist, that reflects on you. Often, “bad experience” seems to relate to a recognition that the amount of work put in by the consultant didn’t reflect the fee they charged.


2. Self Delivery 

In this approach, you spend time with your clients to work out the extent to which they qualify, interviewing staff, maybe looking around the premises, getting a feel for the business. You produce a report detailing the eligible work and a spreadsheet that gives a breakdown of the claim’s expenditure. This process relies upon a detailed knowledge of HMRC’s R&D tax guidance as you’ll need to interpret whether your client has relevant, eligible activities before you can account for the claim. Charging models are often on a contingent basis, from 5-30% of the tax benefit you recover for your client.


+   This model can be highly profitable if you find the right clients. Contingent fees can be in six figures for larger SMEs, and are rarely below £2k.

+   Many companies who’ve not previously claimed prefer ‘no win no fee’ arrangements, seeing it as a low risk way to access funds they weren’t expecting.


[-] Lots of people are offering this service now, so it can be hard to differentiate yourself. (Lots claim “Industry experts! 100% success rate! No win no fee!”)

[-] Fee rates are falling as competition intensifies. Depending on local competitors, you might find yourself lowering rates to rock bottom to win work.

[-] It’s time intensive, and claims can take weeks or months to prepare. Most of that is dead time, waiting for clients to respond with the information you need.

[-] Even when you’ve been authorised by your client to speak to HMRC, it can be hard to find out when the claim has been processed – and therefore know when to invoice.


3. Using Software “in-house”

This approach uses software to perform some or all of the R&D claim preparation process, and often involves using it sat alongside the client in an R&D meeting. Alternatively, you might send clients spreadsheets or Word documents to capture the information you need, then enter it into the R&D software on their behalf. You generate the report, check it for accuracy and perhaps add your own branding or content, then present it back to the client. This can help you to generate very high margins, especially if you are able to maintain a high contingent fee.


+  You may be able to keep your fees high whilst still making time-savings on the report production.


[-] It’s very slow and inefficient to ask clients questions and then manually enter their answers yourself in to the system, so this approach doesn’t work too well if you’re processing lots of claims each month.

[-] Asking a client to wade through a large spreadsheet or Word document probably isn’t the nicest experience for them, and they lose the interactive element of good software.

[-] R&D tax is a competitive market, with lots of price pressure.  Your customer might ask you to justify the premium price you’ve charged them if you are spending less resource time preparing claims using technology, particularly if they are approached by multiple providers.


4. Using Software to collaborate with clients

In this approach, you’re open with your clients about using software to prepare R&D claims and you involve them in the process. You brand the software with your logo, switch on white-labelling so that the URL matches your existing domain, and invite clients to work with you remotely on the platform. You either ask them to enter the information in their own time and then check their answers, or work through the questions together online. Typically this work is charged on a competitive,  fixed fee basis and is difficult for traditional competitors to compete with.


+  Your lower price makes you irresistible to local companies who’re paying higher rates to your competitors. You win new business by comfortably undercutting.

+  Asking clients to enter their information themselves is very time efficient and if you use the right software, they will be taken through a very simple, highly structured process that will ensure that they cover all of the areas that HMRC are interested in. Once they’re done, it doesn’t take long to review their answers to check for red flags.

+  White-labelling (giving the app a URL like app.myfirm.co.uk) allows you to present the system as your own, making it easier to justify your fees.

+  Clients who’ve experienced how long traditional consultancy takes will enjoy the time-savings of using software – and appreciate the lower costs of making a claim.


[-] Activating white-labelling is simple, but usually requires an IT person to set up.

[-] It can take a few claims before you get used to using software and have ironed the wrinkles out of your business process – stick with it and the benefits are there to be exploited.

There’s certainly no ‘right’ way to do things, but however you choose to do it, selecting the right model will result in higher job satisfaction for you, a better experience for your customers, and a profitable and sustainable revenue stream that helps you grow your business.


Less is more – getting it right first time

In our last blog post (‘Avoiding the elephant traps when writing R&D reports‘), we talked about how to avoid some of the common pitfalls in applying for R&D tax relief. This time we wanted to focus on the positives – the things you can include that’ll help HMRC to understand what the claim is for and give them reassurance that it’s been prepared to a high standard by someone who really understands the scheme.

The first really helpful thing you can do is decide on the structure of your report. Even if you don’t provide reams of detail, it’s useful to show HMRC that you’ve examined a wide range of factors that can affect the claim. The ones we’d particularly recommend are:

  1. Grants
  2. Boundaries of R&D
  3. Level of detail
  4. Area of advance
  5. Competent Professionals


Be up front about any grants that the company has received. Be sure to mention the type of the award (i.e. whether it is Notified State Aid, de minimis funding, or anything else). The reason to be clear is because grants have such a significant impact on the claim, so HMRC will be keen to see that they’ve been treated correctly. 

Remember, any project that’s received State Aid will be bumped into the RDEC scheme for Large Companies, meaning that subcontractor costs for Limited companies must be excluded. If the grant was de minimis State Aid (or not State Aid at all!), then the grant-funded part of the project can be claimed through RDEC and the remainder routed through the SME scheme as usual.

Boundaries of R&D

In HMRC’s playbook, R&D doesn’t actually start until you’ve set out to make something ‘better’, encountered at least one significant technical challenge, and, crucially, tried to use all the standard or existing techniques that are usually applied in that situation. If all of those don’t work, then the R&D clock starts ticking while you try to develop a new solution that does work. Getting this boundary condition right shows that you’re an R&D ninja. Getting it wrong can be an instant red flag and land you with a time-consuming enquiry.

Level of detail

Some advisors seem to think that the longer the R&D report, the stronger the claim. Not true. While it’s always important to provide a level of detail appropriate to the size of the claim, it’s usually better to provide a small amount of really concise and relevant information than a War & Peace effort where much of the information is extraneous. Like you, HMRC are pushed for time and you can help make their lives easier (and happier!) by providing only what they need to make an informed decision on your claim. Be honest about who you’re writing for – HMRC, or your client (to justify your fees..?).

Area of advance

When it comes to the section on the technical advance, it often helps to include the area of science or technology in which the advance is being claimed. Why? Two reasons – firstly, because it helps HMRC get comfortable that the advance isn’t a commercial one (for example, using existing technologies to produce something that is commercially new rather than technologically new). Secondly, being clear about the area of advance makes it easy for them to check that you or your client have Competent Professionals in that particular area.

Competent Professionals

Speaking of which, it’s good practice to consider whether the people leading the R&D projects are credible ‘Competent Professionals’. This is usually the case if they have industry experience and qualifications in that particular field. If they don’t (as is the case in many IT projects, in which non-IT experts are asked to draw up a specification for a new system but aren’t directly involved in the technical details of its implementation) then perhaps draw breath to consider whether the company should even be claiming for that work at all.

As you can probably get from the above, there’s lots to consider when making a claim for R&D tax relief – and this is only scratching the surface. The good news is that WhisperClaims provides advisors (typically accountants and business consultants) with a framework for systematically and methodically working through all of these points – and generating HMRC-compliant reports at the touch of a button. For those who like to tinker, our reports are also easy to edit and customise, allowing you to focus your efforts on the fancy icing rather than on baking the cake in the first place.

With a growing number of accountancy firms starting to use technology to make their R&D processes more efficient, the future looks like one where advisors and their clients work together closely, supported by technology, to produce stronger results with less effort and cost. And that’s a future that we’re proud to be part of.  

Have you had your WhisperClaims demo yet?

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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Avoiding the elephant traps when writing R&D reports

When making claims for R&D tax relief, most companies (or their advisors) will prepare a technical narrative to accompany the numbers. Ideally, this should give HMRC a clear idea of what the company is claiming for, and why it meets the criteria for relief.

Often, however, the company (or said advisor!) can fall into one of many elephant traps that are liberally sprinkled around the R&D tax credit landscape. We know that the last thing you need is to be looking up at the sky from the bottom of a dark pit (our metaphorical description of what it feels like to be facing an HMRC R&D enquiry), so have compiled this handy list of commonly made mistakes – and suggested how to solve them. Because we’re nice. And like elephants.

Trap Number 1 – Mixing up “research” with “research”.

Um, what now? Ok, I can see how this could be confusing. What we mean by this is that some companies confuse what is research for them with research as defined by HMRC’s guidelines (check out ‘HMRC CIRD81900’ for a fascinating ½ hour read).

Examples of this are companies writing things like “we’ve never done this before” or “it was difficult and required research because we didn’t know how to do this”.

The problem here is that the first question HMRC will ask is whether the company was operating outside its area of specialism. Just because they didn’t have the skills or experience to tackle the task, doesn’t mean that it is necessarily a challenge for the industry. An example of this could be an engineering company trying to claim for the development of a new IT system – they might be great at making shock absorbers, but lousy at software development.

So, if you find yourself writing ‘we didn’t know if we could do this’, be sure to explain why it was difficult and make it clear that you were operating within your sector of specialism (or if not, had at least engaged a competent professional able to recognise what is and isn’t R&D in the relevant field).

Trap Number 2 – Using the word ‘bespoke’

But wait, I hear you cry – ‘bespoke’ means unique, and unique means new, and new means eligible for R&D tax credits! Am I right?

Well, in some cases yes, but in many cases no.

The word ‘bespoke’ does indeed imply that the solution you developed is a one-off, but unfortunately that doesn’t necessarily make it eligible for R&D tax credits. Take the example of buying a bespoke suit – it’s beautiful, it’s fitted to you and only you, no other suit is exactly the same anywhere in the world.

The problem is that although the suit itself is a one-off, the process of making bespoke suits is well understood and carries no technical risk (in other words, there’s no ‘technical uncertainty’ associated with its production).

While this is a trivial example, the same principle can be applied to software projects. It’s common for companies commissioning a new IT system to think that because they’ve paid for the development of a system that’s exactly designed and configured to their specifications, that they can claim R&D tax credits for it. The issue here is that most often, the specification they set can be met by the IT company using existing techniques, methods and processes – so no R&D is involved at all!

Bottom line is, if you’re going to use the word bespoke, be prepared to explain which parts of the project or product advanced scientific knowledge. Being unique isn’t enough on its own!

Trap Number 3 – Get your boundaries right

We’ve seen some reports that are pretty expansive (or optimistic) about when R&D starts and stops. For example:

The R&D began when the company first spoke to the client about the problem, and ended when the solution was implemented.”

Again, writing something like this is a red flag to HMRC’s Inspectors, who know that the early part of the project is likely to involve talking in more general terms about the project – its success criteria, costs and timings etc.

In contrast, the boundaries for R&D (for tax relief purposes) are defined as ‘when work to resolve the scientific or technological uncertainty starts’ and ends with ‘when that uncertainty is resolved or work to resolve it ceases’.  That’s a jargon-y way of saying that you must have met a significant new technical challenge in the project – and those challenges typically don’t pop up straight away (unless you’ve been specifically engaged to solve a problem that’s known to be R&D straight off the bat).

In summary, our advice is to be careful to show HMRC that you understand the start / stop conditions of R&D. A good way of doing this is to show in the report what the client did prior to any R&D, making it more obvious that the claimant is being respectful of the limits of the scheme.

Hungry for more? Read part 2 of our blog series: “Less is more – getting it right first time”.

Or find out more about writing a technical narrative and get some examples.

Have you had your WhisperClaims demo yet?

The challenges of describing your projects in exactly the right way can be avoided by using WhisperClaims. 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 as we can possibly make them.

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Don’t get bamboozled by grants

The interaction of grants and R&D tax credits is one of the least well understood parts of HMRC’s R&D Tax Relief scheme, but it doesn’t have to be – it’s actually not that bad once you understand a few basics!  In this mini tutorial, we walk you through some of the key tips and rules and show you how these can be applied to your projects (or those of your clients).

The first thing to appreciate is that, from the perspective of R&D tax credits, grants can be split into two types: Notified State Aid, and then everything else (including de minimis State Aid).  Notified State Aid is grant funding that has been notified to and approved by the European Commission; in fact, the SME scheme for R&D tax credits is in itself a Notified State Aid! To help prevent Governments over-subsidising their own companies, there is a rule that no project within Europe can be in receipt of more than one form of Notified State Aid. This leads us to Rule 1.

Rule 1 – You can’t use more than one form of Notified State Aid on a project.

This means that if your project has already received State Aid (such as a SMART grant), you can’t apply for R&D tax credits under the SME scheme. Technically this applies for the lifespan of the project, so accepting a State Aid grant in one year will preclude claiming SME R&D credits in all subsequent years. However, the news is not all bad! (See Rule 2.)

Rule 2 – You can claim for State Aid-funded projects through RDEC.

More of a tip than a rule, but anyway – RDEC stands for Research & Development Expenditure Credit, which is the scheme available for Large Companies (those with 500+ staff) conducting R&D in the UK.

If you are an SME with a State Aid-funded R&D project, you can normally claim relief under RDEC – which unlike the SME scheme is not a form of Notified State Aid. It doesn’t matter what percentage of the project has been funded by State Aid – all of its expenditure is affected!  Here are a couple of examples.

Example 1: £100k project funded by £40k of State Aid.


Example 2: £100k project funded by £10k of State Aid.

grants 2

In each example above, the whole project must be routed through RDEC, irrespective of how much State Aid it received. So be warned!  As an SME, accepting even small amounts of State Aid can have a big impact on your ability to claim for R&D tax relief.

Ok, that’s the evil form of grant funding out the way. Now let’s look at what happens when we fund R&D projects with grants that are not Notified State Aid. Well hello Rule 3…

Rule 3: Non State Aid grants split your project into SME & RDEC components.

Compared with the fire-breathing dragons of State Aid, other forms of funding are much nicer, fluffier creatures. Instead of forcing your whole project into the RDEC scheme, they affect only the amount they subsidise, with the balance allowed to go through the SME scheme as usual. Let’s look at a couple of examples to get a feel for how this works.

Example 3: £100k project funded by £40k of other grants.

grants 3

Example 4: £100k project funded by £10k of other grants.

grants 4

In each of these examples, the part of the project subsidised by the grant is routed through RDEC. The remainder goes through the SME scheme as usual. For most companies, this is the best of both worlds – you get your grant, and you also get to claim for a lot of the SME tax credits; nice!

While there is still a bit of complexity we haven’t covered (for example, not all costs eligible under the SME scheme are permissible under RDEC), we hope that gives you a clearer idea of how grants affect claims for R&D tax credits. State Aid is ‘bad’ – but not as bad as people think, as it doesn’t stop you claiming, it just changes how much benefit you get from your claim. Non State Aid is ‘good’, in that it nourishes your projects while not preventing you from claiming for the majority of your oh-so-tasty SME R&D tax credits. 

The great news is that all of the above information is baked into WhisperClaims – a robust, cloud-based system that allows you to prepare claims for your clients quickly and with as much expert knowledge as we could pack in (which was a lot).

<<<Boost your R&D knowledge with our clever guides on making a tax relief claim.>>>

De-bunking the myths on R&D tax credit claims

Despite the fact that HMRC’s R&D tax credit scheme is now close to 20 years old (how time flies!), there are still quite a few stubborn myths and questions that never quite seem to go away. To help banish them once and for all, we’ve compiled a list of three of the most common – we hope these haven’t got in the way of your claims over the years!

Myth 1: “We can’t claim for projects that failed”

Like many good myths, there’s an element of truth to this. If the project has failed for business, commercial or legal reasons (or, gulp, due to poor leadership or mismanagement) then yes, that’s not good.

Failed Project

If, however, the project failed for technical reasons, then from the perspective of R&D tax credits, this can actually be positive, as it shows that what you were trying to achieve was genuinely challenging, even for experienced people.

So, if projects fail, you don’t necessarily have to push them into a darkened room and forget about them.

Top tip: Instead, keep a note of why that project failed, and if it’s a technical reason, the work might be worth considering as part of your claim when you come to your year end.

Myth 2: “We can’t claim for projects that received grants”

Ooooh, this is a horrible one – and we hear it quite a lot. It’s horrible because people believe it, don’t look at how the scheme works and end up losing out big-time as a result.

Unlike Myth 1, there is no element of truth to this. You can claim for grant-funded projects, but you’ve got to do it correctly and the benefit you receive will vary depending on the size of the grant and whether it’s Notified State Aid.

As a rule of thumb, if a project has received Notified State Aid (no matter how small) then all of that project’s expenditure should be routed through the Research & Development Expenditure Credit scheme (RDEC) –  that’s normally used by Large Companies.

Conversely, if you have a £100k project that’s been subsidised by a £30k grant that is not Notified State Aid, then £30k of the project would go through RDEC and £70k will go through the SME scheme.

Top Tip: The moral of the story is: find out what type of grant you received!

Myth 3: “We can’t claim for the work because we were paid to do it”

This is a really interesting one. Again, it’s based on truth, in that if you are contracted by an SME to perform R&D, you can’t claim (instead, the commissioning SME will be claiming R&D tax relief on the payment they made to their subcontractor – you).

However, the first point to make is that if you are commissioned to perform R&D by a Large Company (usually one with 500 or more staff), then you are generally able to claim through RDEC yourself, as the commissioning Large Company cannot claim R&D tax relief on the costs of its Limited Company subcontractors.

The other, more subtle point, is that many contracts between companies and their subcontractors do not explicitly state the need for R&D. In short, the contract is for a defined piece of work and the need for R&D is often not mentioned.


Now, it may be that as a subcontractor delivering such a contract, you can do what’s required by using existing knowledge, processes and techniques. In this case, no R&D is involved and it would be inappropriate to claim R&D tax relief.

On the other hand, you may decide to launch your own project – at your own cost and risk – to develop a new capability that will assist in delivering upon this contract, and similar contracts you might win in the future. In this case, there’s usually an argument to be made for claiming R&D tax relief under the SME scheme.

Top Tip: Check if the contract with your client explicitly states the need for R&D and if you have an argument for making a claim.

Don’t get bamboozled!

The great news is that all of these myths are comprehensively busted in our software platform, WhisperClaims, which was designed from the ground up by people who’ve worked in R&D tax credit consultancy for years. The software helps you evaluate work that might have failed, handles all kinds of grant situations (such as using Notified State Aid and de minimis funding on the same project, for example) and even takes you through the complexities of working as a subcontractor for other entities, whether SMEs or Large Companies.

Image of a laptop showing the R&D tax software with a question about what areas of science and technology a in which company undertook R&D

There’s a lot going on in our system, and we feel the best way to explain it all is to show you. That’s why we’re happy to arrange a free demo and consultation, so that you can decide whether it’s right for you or your clients.

>>> Get it touch to arrange your free demo and consultation >>>


We’re off and running – a new approach to R&D tax claims!

After a hectic few months, I’m pleased to finally say that we’ve got the WhisperClaims team together and are ready to go!

Richard Edwards and Jen Smeed join as Director/Shareholders and Rick Henry as our Lead Developer.

We’ve built a fully automated software platform for the production of R&D tax claims. White labelled for Accountants and R&D Tax Specialists, we are able to produce R&D claims, from client engagement to full report production, in under an hour, all for a fixed fee irrespective of the claim size.

We’re still pre-launch (website to go live later this month) but our early adopters are already generating revenue from the platform.

A revolution? We think so.

If you’d like to know more, contact us and we’ll have a chat about how you can benefit.



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