This week, we’re pleased to welcome Alan Woods of Woods Squared to the WhisperClaims blog. Alan tells us about his firm’s aspirations to create a streamlined R&D service, why they moved away from outsourcing work and where WhisperClaims technology has been used to create an HMRC-friendly claims process.
Alan is also one of the three speakers at the WhisperClaims ‘Building an R&D tax service’ Webinar, which you can find a link to at the end of this article.
Hi Alan, can you introduce yourself and what your firm does?
Hi I’m Alan Woods, director of Woods Squared. We are an accountancy firm based in the North West of England near Liverpool. We offer financial advice to around 50 business clients across the UK from retail and eCommerce to construction and IT service based companies.
We do all the usual jobs you’d expect an accountant to do, including filing accounts, preparing financial statements and lodging tax returns, but we don’t just stop there. We’re experts in multiple accounting software platforms and we create funding opportunities for clients through Capitalise and our R&D tax relief service.
In the past two years our R&D service has gone from strength to strength. We’re now able to support businesses of all sizes to take advantage of the R&D tax relief scheme. We’ve been on quite a journey to achieve this and have a lot of learnings that we can share with firms looking to do the same.
Did you have an R&D service before you started using WhisperClaims?
Yes – we’ve been doing R&D claims for a couple of years now. Originally we were outsourcing the work to an R&D consultant but we found the process to be a bit disconnected with how we wanted clients to be managed. There was often a delay between us having a conversation with our clients and the consultants progressing the claim. We were keen to speed this process up so that clients could benefit from their tax relief sooner.
We also found that the size of the claim could be an issue for the consultant. The complexities of the scheme often meant that the time and effort required to pull a claim together made it economically difficult for our consultant to offer advice to our smallest claimants (who were usually the ones in need of the £). This affected a significant proportion of our clients so we had to find a way to lift this barrier.
What convinced you to move your R&D tax service in-house?
We moved our service to a local accountancy firm which initially worked out well. They were able to come into our office to speak to clients directly which aligned with our approach and helped resolve the client management issue we had experienced with the consultant.
However we eventually hit some issues. Some claims that were submitted by this new supplier started to raise red flags with HMRC. Most of these were resolvable but it wasn’t the robust claims process we had promised our clients. We realised that our new supplier was not quite as proficient at their claims as they lead us to believe, so again we started to look around for other ways to do it.
How did you overcome those challenges?
We started to speak to Richard Edwards and his team at WhisperClaims and they helped us to deal with the enquiries. This support has been priceless! It really helped us to look after those businesses who had been affected. I doubt we would have been able to deal with them on our own, so it was really great to have that technical support from the guys at WhisperClaims.
Since then we’ve adopted their technology and started preparing claims in-house. We’ve continued to use WhisperClaims for new claims and we’ve had no issues raised by HMRC.
Has your confidence grown since then?
Those enquiries got us really nervous. We started to doubt what was or wasn’t a claim and the best way to approach things. Now, whenever we have a claim that’s borderline, we float it past Richard and Jen. They’ve been able to say yeah that’s got R&D activity and this is where we think the emphasis should be. That’s been a great steer for us in terms of moving things forward. Getting support to review claims before they are submitted gives you that reassurance you sometimes need when you are preparing claims in-house.
What impact has this had on your firm?
We’ve now been able to take R&D claims preparation in-house because, with WhisperClaims support, we’ve learnt how to identify eligibility better. We know the reasoning behind why some claims aren’t eligible and what is actually being written and prepared from a technical report perspective. This was the key learning point for us. The technical report that WhisperClaims produces is great and we’ve had no issues whatsoever with HMRC.
What have you learnt through this process?
We were unfortunate with the HMRC enquiries from our previous supplier, but in some ways, working with Jen and Richard to resolve these has led to conversations with clients that has just added more knowledge to our team. We can identify work that qualifies for R&D tax relief and we’ve also been doing more reading around the subject of what is or isn’t eligible just to reinforce our own understanding.
Do you use the system to pre-qualify claims?
Yes – it’s a simple step by step process. WhisperClaims software enables you to get the relevant information you need from the client and it tells you when there isn’t a claim – it’s a sense checker. You can very quickly pre-qualify claims directly with the client. I really like the systematic approach.
What sort of impact has it had on your clients?
A lot of businesses have R&D activities that they aren’t aware of. For some businesses a claim might only make a few thousand pounds of financial difference to them, but for small businesses that’s a significant sum of money. It’s great to be able to get money back in the bank for them or get a reduction on their corporate tax liability as a result of doing something that they didn’t think was eligible. That’s what I really like about the WhisperClaims software. It allows us to look at claims of all sizes.
How do you go about finding eligible claims in unlikely places?
If you keep delving into client work there’s often R&D there. You just have to keep asking. In retail we’ve found claims with businesses who have created software based solutions, for example, a jeweler who manufactured a repair system to fix jewellery rather than just selling new stuff. Often retailers have got a manufacturing process that comes before the product goes to market. You have to look at the whole supply chain to see how that company works. Within those businesses it tends to be the owners overseeing the project, but there will often be a manufacturing team that has a lot more information around the process. You need to dig into this. It’s usually this team that’s doing the actual R&D work.
What are your aspirations for the year ahead?
We’re looking to reset since COVID-19 and not fall back into old habits. We’ll be taking advantage of the new ways of doing things, like working remotely and using Zoom to stay in touch with clients. From an R&D perspective we’re looking to take on more clients and provide more support, so that as many businesses as possible can thrive in what is currently a very challenging climate.
Looking to follow in Alan’s footsteps?
Alan is speaking at our free webinar ‘Building an in-house R&D tax service’ on the 22nd of October 2020.
Join us to get the inside scoop on how Alan, and accountants like him, are moving their R&D tax relief services in-house, adopting technology and finding eligibility within their client base.
Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme
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