Identifying eligible Digital Agency clients 

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the latest of this series, we’re looking at digital agencies. As with our previous subjects, the level of eligible R&D to be found in this area is misunderstood, and very often overestimated. However, if you know what you’re looking for this can be a good area to look for eligible clients.

What to avoid

What not to look for: Social Media

As with our previous subjects, it’s worth taking the time to first think about the types of digital agencies that don’t do any eligible work. As with other service-based companies, most of the core work done by digital agencies is not eligible for R&D tax relief. This includes the design and management of PPC campaigns, and the management of social media channels and advertising. These activities don’t require advancements in science or technology and are therefore not eligible.

What not to look for: SEO Optimisation Agencies

Beyond this, agencies that focus solely on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) are often far less eligible than you might expect! Analysing and adapting websites to improve SEO performance is out, as it tends to use standard tools and techniques. Similarly, working out the impact of and how to overcome changes in search engine algorithms is not automatically eligible, as it can often be done using current knowledge and standard processes.

Ok, so what should I look for?

So, now that we know what ineligible digital agency R&D work looks like, what areas should you be focussing on?

Data Analytics and Big Data

What to look for: Big Data

Companies developing new, high-performance algorithms to analyse the huge volumes of data generated by marketing agencies are often eligible for R&D tax relief. These digital agencies often have a team of mathematicians and data scientists, and work on developing innovative tools for other digital agencies to exploit.

Development of software tools

What to look for: Software InnovatorsFollowing on from work done on analytics and big data, digital agencies often carry out qualifying work in the area of software development. The development of new software tools to enable, for example, the integration of disparate social media channels would be eligible for R&D tax relief, as long as it requires advances to be made in software science.

Software tools that incorporate advances in data science, for example the creation of tools that enable digital agencies to exploit the big data algorithms developed by their data scientists, are often eligible.

Virtual Reality

What to look for: Virtual Reality

At the very cutting edge of digital agency work are those agencies working to extend and improve the use of virtual reality to create completely immersive experiences. This requires, for example, the creation of software capable of processing and displaying hundreds of images at the same time to create a fully 3D world, whilst also allowing the software to be run on standard hardware such as mobile phones.

SME scheme or RDEC

When analysing the work done by your digital agency clients, it’s worth taking the time to think about how they structure their work, and which elements of the work can routed through which R&D tax scheme. Digital agencies are often contracted by their clients to do R&D on their client’s behalf, and the costs of these projects would have to be claimed through the RDEC scheme. However, the types of work discussed above are usually done in-house on the agency’s own behalf, and can be claimed through the SME scheme.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Where will I find eligible R&D in 2021?

We made it – we’ve slogged our way through ‘quite a year’, and 2021 is finally here – hooray! And yet we’re still in lockdown, schools are closed and companies are struggling, so the light at the end of the tunnel is still a long way off. We know that our customers went above and beyond throughout 2020 to support their corporate clients, making sure that they accessed any and all appropriate sources of funding, including R&D tax relief, and are now looking to do the same in 2021.

To help with this, here’s our guide on where to look for eligible R&D in your client base this year.

2020 Pivots

The COVID-19 crisis and its associated difficulties—from the total shutdown of many industries to the challenges of homeworking—has led to a huge number of companies pivoting their business models, products, delivery methods or in fact every aspect of their business. Where these pivots have required an advance to be made in science or technology, it’s likely that the company will be eligible to claim R&D tax relief.

R&D Prediction of Cloud Storage as a Sector for eligiblity

For example, a huge number of software companies have moved to the cloud or developed new online tools to support remote businesses. Where this requires advances to be made in computer science, there’s a claim! Other examples include manufacturing companies developing new and improved PPE, and distilleries finding more effective ways to make hand sanitiser. As long as there’s an advance, there’s a claim!

Trends in Technology

R&D Prediction of 5G Data as a Sector for eligiblity

Alongside the huge amounts on innovation driven by COVID-19, the world of technology continues to grow and change. Companies working on the introduction of 5G networks to not just consumer electronics but also the manufacturing industry will doubtless be carrying out huge amounts of R&D into how best to harness and exploit the potential introduced by increased data transfer speeds.

R&D Prediction of Artificial Intelligence as a Sector for eligiblity

AI continues to be both a meaningless buzzword and a key area of development in a whole range of industries, from insurance companies looking to improve their risk assessments to medical imaging companies producing devices to predict how well a wound will heal.

R&D Prediction of Cybersecurity as a Sector for eligiblity

Cybersecurity and authentication will also become more and more important in a more remote world, with the need to have secure access to sensitive company data for dispersed workforces causing more than a few problems for software development companies.

Ongoing trends

Alongside these newer trends and pressures, huge numbers of companies continue to carry out R&D in response to changes in their industry and the wider world. From making products more environmentally friendly and reducing carbon footprints to the development of alternatives to fossil fuels, environmental issues continue to motivate companies across all sectors to carry out eligible R&D.

R&D Prediction of Veganism as a Sector for eligiblity

Cultural changes are also playing their part. Over the past few years, for example, the demand for vegan food products has skyrocketed, bringing with it a huge number of R&D tax relief claims for food manufacturing companies.

Closing thoughts

Of course, having said all of this, we know that our users will have many clients who are doing eligible R&D in less cutting-edge areas. We always advise looking at the following when trying to find eligible R&D in your client base:

  • Look at the sector they’re operating in – is it likely to involve science or technology?
  • Does the company employ technical staff?
  • Does the company have R&D costs stated on their accounts?
  • Have the company’s project costs gone up, or have they experienced major cost overruns?
  • Has the company been awarded any grants or patents?

Keeping these questions in mind when considering their client base should help accountants and advisors identify as many eligible clients and R&D projects as possible.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook


Feature of the Month | Technical Reports: What are they, and how do you generate them using WhisperClaims software?

For most of our users, the biggest benefit of using the WhisperClaims system is the time saved in technical report writing. The system is designed to take the pain out of this process.

Our users tell us that prior to using WhisperClaims technology this was a process that previously took them days or even weeks to complete, and by adopting our technology this has been compressed into a matter of hours (sometime even less than an hour!).

One of the biggest contributors to this time saving is the ability to generate robust technical reports at the click of a button – we refer to this internally as our “wow moment” in customer demos – it’s the time when a prospects jaw drops and they realise the full benefits of using our system!

It’s also the feature of the software that we’re most proud of!

However, before we get into the details of how this works, let’s take a moment to talk about what technical reports are and why they’re needed.

What is an R&D tax relief technical report?

The aim of a technical report or technical narrative is to convince HMRC that the R&D tax relief claim is valid and answer any initial questions they might have about the claim. A good technical report manages to do all of this concisely and without introducing any red flags!

Th technical report needs to cover all of the key things that HMRC is interested in when assessing an R&D tax relief claim:

  • Which areas of science or technology was the company operating in?
  • What technical advances did the company seek to make during the claim period?
  • What technical difficulties did it meet along the way?
  • Did the company use competent professionals to carry out the work?

What do I do with the technical report?

The technical report is submitted to HMRC alongside the relevant corporation tax return. You can find out more about this process in a previous blog, but in essence it’s pretty simple – you can either upload the report to your tax filling software, or email to HMRC.

How does report generation in WhisperClaims work?

Report generation in WhisperClaims is remarkably straightforward – of course, by the time our users come to generate the report they’ve already done the hard part and entered all of the information about the claim!

Once you’ve entered and reviewed all of the claim information, report generation couldn’t be simpler – all you have to do is finalise the claim, which locks down the answers and enables the system to accurately produce the report. To access the report, you’re taken through the paywall, then it’s a simple matter of downloading. It couldn’t be easier, or indeed faster – from clicking ‘Finalise’ to reading the report is a matter of seconds!

Contacting us during the festive period

We know that some of you will be turning off your laptops and starting the festivities very soon, so we’d like to wish you a merry and peaceful Christmas and a happy New Year.

Contacting us

Over the festive period, there will be some changes to our usual contact times.

For customer support:
The only days we won’t be contactable will be the 25th – 26th December and the 1st – 2nd of January. Otherwise, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!

Tel: 0800 211 8197

For sales enquiries:
We’ll be taking a short break from the 25th December – 4th January. Demo bookings can still be requested by email or via the website and we’ll get back to on our return to the office in January.


What’s ahead?

As we wrap up for our festive break, Mike Dean reflects on some of the key highlights from 2020 and what’s ahead for 2021.

>>>Read Mike’s blog>>>

What will 2021 bring?


2020: That’s a wrap! Looking ahead to 2021

The world is a very different place as we come to the end of 2020 than it was at the start. The pandemic has had a significant effect on global economies and has been devastating for certain sectors.

For us, 2020 was only our second full year of trading since we launched in September 2018, so, even in the best of times, this year would have been a tough year for a start-up still finding its feet in the dizzyingly competitive world of R&D tax claims provision.

In reality, this year has been an incredibly busy one for us – during the second half of the year we ramped up our new customer acquisition, largely through increased marketing activity including the launch of our webinar series. The webinars themselves proved to be a huge success and we surprised ourselves with audiences regularly exceeding 100. Of course, this success could well have been a direct effect of the pandemic – it’s certainly true that accountants have recognised the need for additional capital for their clients in this period and that, in itself, is likely to have driven them to proactively look for new solutions and could be what’s driven them to our door!

New Employees Hired in 2020

During the year we have continued to build the team and welcomed first Sandy and then Cristina to the dev team, and Markos to marketing. In his first few months with us as an intern, Markos was based from his family home in Cyprus and at the same time our Technical Director, Rick, moved out to the Netherlands so we took on a distinct international flavour during the summer as, along with the rest of the world, we embraced remote working across the team.

In the third quarter,  we released ‘WhisperClaims 2.0’, our new user interface – this was a key moment for us as it was the biggest change to the system since we first launched – we held our breath on “go live” day, and all went well – feedback was fantastic and we look forward to some significant new features next year.

WhisperClaims 2.0 Screenshot

All of that growth has seen us hit several milestones as we near the end of the year: in early December we are pleased to have recruited our 100th subscriber firm and in just the last few days we broke through the £100m barrier!

That’s £100m of eligible R&D spend having been identified by our customers using the WhisperClaims app – quite a milestone!

AccountingExcellence Award Win

And of course we topped off 2020 with a surprise (to us at least!) win at the Accounting Excellence Awards in the “Non-Accounting Cloud  or Banking App” category. We’ve managed to win an award for every year we’ve been in business so far – our email footers are looking really busy!

As we round out the year, we find ourselves saying goodbye to one of our co-Founders – Richard is leaving us to start another new venture focusing on delivering online training and consultancy. He’ll be a WhisperClaims user and we’ll continue to work closely together in future – we wish him well with his exciting new plans.

What will 2021 bring?


What will 2021 bring?

As I write this, we are about to make two new appointments and welcome new team members to sales and development – both of which will help us create more capacity to deal with our continued growth.

At the same time, we are in the middle of building a new website and have been working on a number of new product features that will all come to fruition in 2021.

We’ll be continuing to build out the WhisperClaims community and one of our goals is to double the number of accountants using our software in the 21/22 financial year.

We look forward to an exciting New Year and, like many, hope that we can put the pandemic behind us and continue to enjoy building the WhisperClaims business so that more and more SMEs can be supported by their accountants during what will, hopefully, be a post-covid recovery year.

Happy New Year!

Mike Dean
Managing Director

We’ll be taking a short break over the festive period

Check out our opening and closing times and how to contact us here.

Identifying eligible clients in Dentistry

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the next part of this series, we’re looking at dentistry. In a change from our previous subjects, this is an area in which the level of R&D is often widely overestimated. In this blog we’ll attempt to explain why this is, and highlight the areas that are worth focussing on with your dentistry clients.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s good to start out with an understanding of the types of dentistry practices and companies that don’t do any eligible work. In this sector, unfortunately, the answer to this is a whole lot of them!

The first thing to state here is that the practice of dentistry, although technical and highly skilled, does not constitute R&D on its own. This means that the vast majority of dental practices, who use established processes and techniques to treat patients, are very unlikely to be able to make a claim for R&D tax relief.

This lack of eligibility even extends to more technically advanced dental practices who have bought in off-the-shelf equipment to enable them to deliver cutting-edge treatments to their patients. Simply installing technology is not R&D, and even work done to optimise this equipment for an individual practice would not qualify.

Moving on from dental practices, not even dental laboratories are guaranteed to be doing eligible work. Labs that focus entirely on delivering standard services to dental practices will almost certainly not be eligible to make a claim, even though their staff wear white coats every day!

What to look for

Having said all of that, there are dental practices and laboratories that spend time and money on very eligible work. Here are a few examples of the kind of things to look out for.

Development of new treatments and techniques

Development of new treatments and processes in dentistry is an ongoing activity in certain practices and laboratories. The key thing here is that the treatment or technique requires advances to be made in an area of science, which could be anything from chemistry to software science. For example, the use of diode lasers to detect soft spots in tooth enamel, and thus cavities, required the development of appropriate laser technology alongside extensive clinical trials to prove that the technique worked better than previous methods. All of this development work would qualify for R&D tax relief.

Advances in 3D scanning and printing

One of the biggest advances in dentistry recently has been the introduction of 3D scanning and printing to increase the accuracy and speed of production of a whole range of dental appliances and treatments. Although the basis of these technologies is well established, there is still a great deal of scope for dentistry companies to be carrying out eligible work in this area.

Companies working, for example, to increase the accuracy of measurements made using 3D scanning through the integration of this technology with, for example, microscopy technologies in ways that require advances to be made would have a good case for claiming R&D tax relief. As long as these companies are making advances to the industry as a whole and are pushing these technologies beyond the manufacturers expectations, this can be a rich seam to mine.

Advanced materials

In many areas of dentistry, from the production of dentures and appliances to the bonding of fixes to chipped teeth, a lot of research time is spent on researching and developing new materials. This is complicated by the need for all of these materials to be non-toxic, hardwearing and resistant to the particular environment of the human mouth.

Dental laboratories working in this area, focussed on making advances in materials science and chemistry, will probably have some eligibility for R&D tax relief. For example, the development of longer-lasting bonding materials that can be colour matched to an individual’s remining teeth has vastly improved the ability of dentists to seamlessly repair chipped teeth. In addition, materials for use in 3D printing of dental appliance require a great deal of R&D, due to the need for these materials to meet the above requirements as well as being suitable for use in a 3D printer.

Clinical trials

A final thing to remember is where a dental lab or practice embarks on large-scale clinical trials to validate a new treatment, there will almost certainly be eligible R&D. This kind of structured trial will, by definition, generate new knowledge in an area of science or technology, and should incorporate an advance in medical or dental science.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

The impact of COVID-19 on the R&D tax scheme

We’ve published a number of blogs on the technical impacts of Covid on the R&D tax scheme during the year.  Specific areas include things like the treatment of CBILs and BBLSs (both of which are considered State Aid by the way, so need treating appropriately), and the treatment of costs for furloughed staff.

As well as issuing guidance on those technical impacts on the scheme, throughout this very challenging period HMRC have tried to keep the market updated on impacts on processing times and how companies might deal with, for example, late submissions.

The concern from businesses and from their accountants over potential delays in payments of R&D claims is understandable. Companies who have been negatively impacted by the crisis need access to additional funds more than ever so where an R&D claim is an important part of fulfilling their short-term capital requirements, delayed payments could be disastrous.

HMRC have clearly recognised this and are maintaining their target of processing 95% of R&D claims within 28 days of being filed. In reality though, anecdotal evidence from our users suggests turnaround times of 7 working days in many instances so this has clearly been good news. Also, if businesses are experiencing operational difficulties due to the coronavirus that will prevent them from filling an R&D claim on time, then HMRC have advised they will be sympathetic to this. They will consider giving extensions to claims that are filed late providing they meet certain criteria—if employees who are key to the R&D claim preparation were absent or ill due to the coronavirus in the period leading up to the claim deadline, for example, then HMRC may grant an extension if it’s required.

But what about the R&D tax market? How has that been affected?

The Market for R&D Tax Credits

In many respects it’s too early to say. HMRC publish detailed statistics on the scheme every September, but this only covers data up to the end of the previous tax year and even then that data isn’t particularly useful as, of course, claimants can go back two full years to make a claim – so the most accurate data is always essentially two years out of date. This means that the September 2020 report is little use in helping us figure out what’s happened across the summer.

So let’s reflect instead on our own experience and the observations we’ve been able to make during the pandemic.

First of all, our world has some noise and factors that might affect our view, simply because of our own growth trajectory. Earlier in 2020 we had made the decision to invest in more sophisticated digital marketing, so the growth we’ve experienced ourselves (which includes three fold growth in monthly customer acquisition during the year) potentially completely masks any growth that may have occurred as a result of Covid-19 driven demand.

However, what we have certainly observed is an increasing interest from accountants, our core customer base, on figuring out ways to help inject capital into their client businesses and R&D tax credits seem to figure highly.

Without doubt, our customers have been demonstrating the following behaviours across the year:

  • An increased focus on figuring how to inject capital into businesses
  • A realisation that, for eligible businesses and projects, R&D tax credits are a great way to bring in this much needed capital
  • Finding ways to access the scheme cost effectively and efficiently has become really important
  • R&D tax credits are being used to help turn around struggling businesses – a couple of our customers have some really pointed examples of this
  • As a direct result of recognising these things, our users have become more adventurous in exploring eligibility across a wider range of sectors

That adventurous approach has driven demand for our course and webinar content, with users hungry to get a deeper understanding of the scheme and particularly the boundaries for eligibility. Demand has been so high that we’ve regularly seen audiences of 100+ on our webinars and we’ve not only been selling out our open courses, but also been approached by firms looking to run in-house tailored programmes to really immerse their staff in the scheme and ensure that the claims they make are fully compliant.

Time will tell but we are confident that when the next set of stats are published next September, they will show a significant step up in the uptake of the scheme amongst SME’s this year, and whilst it won’t be reflected in HMRC’s reporting (they don’t report on the sources of claims), in our view the number of accountants who are actively assisting their clients with R&D tax claims is increasing steadily and we can only see this as a good thing for their firms and for their clients.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Identifying eligible clients in Textile Manufacturing

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the latest of this series, we’re looking at textile manufacturing. As with our previous subjects, the level of eligible R&D to be found in this area is misunderstood, and very often underestimated. If you know what you’re looking for, this can be a very productive area to focus on.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s worth taking the time to first think about the types of textile companies that don’t do any eligible work. As with any manufacturing company, textile manufacturers that focus entirely on producing standard ‘fashion’ fabrics almost certainly won’t have any eligibility. Their R&D and new product development is often focussed on aesthetic effects without any real technical challenges being encountered.

In a similar vein, there are many textile companies in the UK that buy in their textiles and focus on processing this for various applications. Where this processing can be done using tried and tested techniques, you won’t find any eligibility. This applies even where, for example, a company buys in off-the-shelf products such as dyes and fabric coatings and applies them in new combinations – if these products are being used as the dye or coating manufacturer intended, then there’s unlikely to be any kind of technical advance.

Ok, so what should I look for?

So, now that we know what ineligible clothing R&D work looks like, what areas should you be focussing on?

Chemical or topical treatments

Companies developing new, high-performance coatings and topical treatments are often required to make advances in chemical science in order to achieve their aims. This can include fire retardant coatings, waterproofing or even radiation protection, and is often a response to new regulatory requirements. As long as the development of these coatings do require an advance, and the company encountered technical uncertainty along the way, then there’s a good chance of an eligible claim.

Development of new woven and non-woven fabrics

In general, the development of new fabrics, where the innovation lies in the colour, pattern or feel of the fabric, is not eligible for R&D tax relief because the desired outcome can be achieved using standard techniques. However, cutting-edge textile companies will often be working on fabrics that use non-standard or newly developed raw materials. Where this requires R&D to be done into manufacturing techniques in order to achieve the desired outcome there can be scope for making a claim for R&D tax relief.

Incorporating technology into textiles

At the very cutting edge of textile development, companies are working to incorporate advanced technologies into fabrics. For example, nanotechnology can be used to make fabrics spill resistant or reduce static without compromising the aesthetics of the materials. In addition, the increased use of biodynamic sensors and electronics in clothing has required a great deal of R&D, not least into how to make these elements resistant to wear and washing. The development of advanced textiles like these will almost certainly involve eligible R&D.

Recycled materials

Another area of focus for textile manufacturers is the incorporation of recycled materials into textiles. The increasing awareness of the environmental impact of the clothing and textile industries has led to pressure on these companies to reduce their use of more polluting raw materials and develop new materials from waste products, such as plastic bottles. Where this work requires advances to be made in chemistry and materials science there will almost certainly be eligibility for R&D tax relief.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Feature of the Month | Collaborators: What are they, and why might you want to invite them to an R&D claim?

While we often joke that there are as many different ways to use WhisperClaims software in an R&D tax relief claim process as we have customers, there are definitely two distinct types of users—those that use the collaboration feature, and those that don’t.

Before we get into the whys and wherefores of inviting collaborators, we should probably establish what we mean by collaborators, and how this feature of the software works.

What are Collaborators?

Put simply, collaborators are anyone who could or should have input into a tax claim. The most obvious examples are the staff of the claimant company—from the technical lead to the financial director, they will have information that you need to pull together a robust R&D claim. Beyond this, subcontractors that worked on the projects might have insights into the technical challenges, or outsourced payroll staff may be able to contribute to the cost gathering.

How are collaborators managed in WhisperClaims?

Collaborators can be added to a claim at any point through the claim interface. You have the option of giving them access to just the questions about the projects, or both the projects and the costs questions, meaning you can keep sensitive financial information private. The collaborators set up their own log in, and can access the claim as often as necessary until you’re happy that you’ve gathered all of the information you need to make the claim.

Ok, but why would I want to invite collaborators to a claim?

Well, as the name suggests, it’s a great way to collaborate with your client on the preparation of their R&D tax claim. This way you both have access to the same information, and any mistakes or misunderstandings can be ironed out before the report is finalised. From experience, we know that the most difficult and time-consuming part of the process is the to-ing and fro-ing about the finer points of the projects and costs, so working collaboratively like this can go a long way towards reducing the time it takes to agree a claim with your client. Finally, it brings your client into the process, giving them a sense of involvement and ownership of the claim.

Identifying Eligible Clients webinar questions answered

Thanks to everyone who joined us at our Identifying Eligible Clients webinar on Wednesday 18th November. This time we kicked off the session with a deep dive into eligibility within three sectors – construction, hospitality and textiles – which led to some great questions being asked by our attendees. We’ve answered those below.

If you’d like to attend future webinars run by WhisperClaims please subscribe to our mailing list at the bottom of this article for notifications on when we’ll be running our next events and where to register.

For those who joined us on the 18th November, here’s the answers to your questions:

1. If a company subcontracts R&D to a specialist contractor, what happens if the specialist contractor also wants to claim for the work?

2. Could you define what would be a qualifying R&D contract with a sub-contractor?

3. If it is a pay as you go type contract is its more likely the R&D will fall with the contractor?And if it is a fixed price contract where the contractor has said “we will pay you a fixed cost for you to deliver X” then is it more likely R&D will fall with the specialist sub-contractor?

These three questions are very closely related, so it seems sensible to consider them together! To take the first question first, the rules around subcontracted R&D are designed to prevent two companies claiming for the same costs within a single R&D project. So, if the specialist subcontractor wants to claim, they’d have to prove that the work they did was not subcontracted R&D, rather work that they did at their own risk and cost to deliver a product to a customer. This usually comes down to how the contract is arranged, which brings us to the other two questions posed here.

The attendee here who asked about fixed price vs. time and material contracts has hit it squarely on the head! A subcontracted R&D contract, where the claim would sit with the contractor rather than the specialist subcontractor, is usually a time and materials-type contract, and often states clearly that there is a need for research or development or both. Work that is likely to sit with the specialist subcontractor, on the other hand, is often the result of agreeing a fixed-price contract to deliver a product, and then realising that that product cannot be delivered using standard methods or processes! This leads to the specialist subcontractors initiating projects at their own cost to resolve technical challenges and gaining knowledge that they can use to deliver contracts in the future.

4. A technically competent subcontractor designs meals for a supermarket and large-scale food manufacturers, taking several attempts to meet the requirements. The contracting company reimburses the subcontractor for the failed attempts. Who can claim the R&D in this situation?

Following on from the above, this seems like a classic case of subcontracted R&D – the specialist subcontractor is being paid by companies to do their R&D, and is taking no commercial or financial risk. In this case the claim would lie squarely with the contracting company, assuming the work met the criteria for eligible R&D.

5. Is there eligibility in specialist recipe development, for example gluten-free or vegan products? And in terms of scale for hospitality, what would you consider as large enough to qualify if they have made large changes to recipes?

We’ve grouped these two questions together because the answer to the first one is almost certainly, depending on the scale of production!

You can read more details about eligibility in food and drink and hospitality in previous blogs, but you will almost always find eligible work where companies are trying to produce, at commercial scale, vegan or gluten-free alternatives to common products. For example, trying to produce an acceptable vegan cheese is fraught with difficulty, and demands a great deal of R&D.

When we say ‘at commercial scale’, what we’re really saying is not at the level of a domestic kitchen or even a larger restaurant kitchen. In those types of environment, it’s very unlikely work will be taking place that advances science or technology, or even the food production industry as a whole.

6. I have a client who thinks they are eligible for R&D. It’s a company that sells restaurant grade meals to be cooked at home. They developed recipes that are environmentally friendly. Are they likely to have eligibility?

Almost certainly not. This seems like standard recipe development using tried and tested techniques. The storage and delivery of high-end foods have also become very standard recently, and there’s plenty of information in the public domain about how to do this.

7. I have another client who developed a new product – a mystery challenge letter that you send to someone as birthday present, the recipient needs to solve a sequence of puzzles to get to either present or online video with a birthday message. Does this sound eligible?

Again, this doesn’t sound like it would have much eligibility. It does sound commercially innovative (and a lot of fun!) but it wouldn’t require the makers to advance science or technology in any way, so wouldn’t be eligible for R&D tax relief.

8. Is there eligibility in the development of new board games?

Similar to the question above, it’s unlikely that a manufacturer would have to advance science or technology in the design or production of a new board game. There’s a slight chance that there’d be some eligibility if the games involved some serious tech, for example facial recognition or AI to predict a player’s next move, but these types of games are few and far between.

9. My client is an IT Benchmarking company. They had a large database on spreadsheets and converted this into a complex SQL/Power BI database system to make it more efficient and scalable. They could also sell the system in the future if they decide to exit. Is this work likely to be eligible for R&D tax relief?

It’s hard to say without knowing more about the technical challenges involved, but on the surface it seems unlikely. Spreadsheets, SQL and Power BI databases are all tried and tested technologies, and while it appears that they are being put to good use, this is likely to be a project that is commercially rather than technologically innovative.

10. Would a project to further develop off the shelf apps to make them perform better be eligible?

Quite possibly, yes – it depends on how the developers are trying to make those apps better, what ‘better’ means in terms of technology, and the nature of the technological challenges that they were faced with. Fine-tuning or optimisation of an app is unlikely to qualify, but a complete redesign to make it far more efficient in terms of data processing could be.

11. Is there eligibility in scaffolding?

The short answer to this question is no. Scaffolding is a well-established non-technical industry that is unlikely to come across difficulties that cannot be solved using standard methods and techniques.

12. I have a lot of construction industry clients who are looking to make R&D claims. An example is a client who works in building foundations for developments. Would you say if they came across a specific development project where they faced technical challenges in building the foundations which could not be resolved using their normal industry practices – would there be R&D?

In this situation we’d say yes, there’s a chance that they would be doing eligible R&D. What we’d look for is work that requires not only the development of methods that are new to the industry, but where these new processes or methods incorporate an advance in science or technology, be that in engineering or even biology if soil remediation was required.

13. One of our clients manufactures heated clothing and is experimenting with different materials and batteries – would this qualify for R&D?

The manufacture of technical or performance clothing tends to be more eligible than the production of fashion clothing, due to the need to do work in the areas of chemistry, electronics and materials science to achieve the required performance. In this particular scenario, I’d expect to find some eligible work – improving battery performance or flexibility of heated clothing, for example, would be likely to require advances to be made in science or technology.

14. Is there any eligibility in wedding clothing?

As with the manufacture of fashion clothing, makers of wedding clothes are under pressure to produce new designs and products for every year and seasons. However, it’s unlikely that this product development work involves any eligible R&D – they will be using established techniques and off-the-shelf materials to produce these designs. The only area that might have some eligibility would be the production of specialist textiles for the wedding industry. For example, if a textiles manufacturer attempted to make a fabric with the look and feel of silk but half the weight, and had to make advances in engineering to do this, they might have an eligible claim.

15. I have a client that is a wholesale butcher with a turnover of £2m. They’ve done a lot of work on cleaning, their distribution process and storage enhancements – is any of this likely to be eligible?

In general, work done to improve distribution processes, no matter the industry, is unlikely to be eligible for R&D tax relief. We’d also say that, in the food production industry, improvements to cleaning methods is also unlikely to contain any eligibility.

In the context of storage enhancements, it would depend on what this work involved. If, for example, the wholesale butcher working closely with a specialist refrigeration company to make advances in the technology underlying flash freezing, they might have a claim. However, if it involved a logistical study of their cold chain in order to ensure that the products remained at optimal temperatures throughout the delivery process, this wouldn’t qualify for R&D tax relief.

16. Can you confirm that if a company obtained a patent for their product, there is a strong case for R&D claim?

We’d say that having obtained a patent makes a strong-er, but not always strong, case for an R&D claim! While it is likely that a company will have done R&D to be able to apply for a patent, it’s not always the case that this will be eligible R&D by HMRC’s definition. To be able to get a patent, a company’s idea has to be ‘something that can be made or used’ and ‘inventive’. From this you can see that a patent could be granted for something that uses existing technologies in innovative ways, which wouldn’t necessarily qualify for R&D tax relief. Having said all of that, looking at your clients that have applied for or been granted patents can be a good way to identify companies that are doing innovative things, which is a good start!

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Identifying eligible clients in Construction

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the next part of this series, we’re looking at construction. As with some of our previous subjects, the level of eligible R&D to be found in this area is misunderstood. In fact, experts are often poles apart, with some stating that there’s no eligibility at all in construction, and others preparing claims for anything and everything!

In fact, construction definitely lands more on the ineligible end of the spectrum – most construction can be carried out without ever doing eligible R&D. However, there are a few projects within some construction that constitute qualifying work.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s good to start out with an understanding of the types of construction companies that don’t do any eligible work. Within construction, the first thing to include in this section are the associated trades. The chances of plumbers, electricians, roofers, plasterers and the like having any eligible R&D to claim for is vanishingly small – they’re carrying out routine tasks using well established processes and procedures.

Moving up the scale, construction companies focussed on the building of domestic housing developments are also unlikely to be much eligible R&D. The design and construction of such houses has become almost completely standardised, with similar houses being built throughout estates and over many different sites. Where eligible R&D is required in these circumstances, it’s also worth noting that any technical uncertainties will almost certainly have been resolved during the building of the first prototype house, so none of the costs of subsequent house builds would be eligible.

Construction companies that focus on the building of commercial buildings are more likely to have carried out eligible work, as by their nature these commercial buildings are more likely to have specialised requirements. However, these requirements can often me met using standard techniques without any R&D. In addition, the challenges in this area can often be around budgets, timing or logistics, and can usually be resolved without the need to make advances in an area of science or technology.

Regulatory and environmental requirements

Having said all of that, there are some interesting areas within construction that might yield eligible claims. The first is work done to comply with changing regulatory and environmental requirements. Within construction, especially of commercial buildings, developers are required to comply with a huge amount of safety and environmental regulations, which are aften updated. Where a company carried out technical R&D to develop new products, processes or services that enable compliance, this work might be eligible for tax relief.

Integrating new technologies

Often, working to make buildings more thermally efficient, for example, can involve integrating new untested technologies into a construction project. Where this is a straightforward process the company would be unable to claim R&D tax relief. However, companies working with cutting edge technologies that require them to make advances in, for example, engineering or materials science to be able to successfully install the technologies or achieve the required outcome, would be able to make a claim.

Modular Construction

Construction companies working in non-traditional areas of construction, such as modular design and building, are more likely to be carrying out eligible work. For example, the development of modular building materials, products and processes is likely to involve advances in electrical engineering and civil engineering, and could be eligible for R&D tax relief.

Supply chain

As with a lot of the less eligible sectors we’ve discussed, the supply chain to the construction industry is far more likely to yield eligible claims than the industry itself. For example, developers of advanced thermal cladding likely to be making advances in materials science, and software companies developing advanced Building Information Management could be advancing software science. Overall, this can be a much more productive area to focus on than looking at ‘pure’ construction companies.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Identifying eligible clients in hospitality

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the fourth part of this series, we’re looking at hospitality. In a change from our previous subjects, this is an area in which you’re very unlikely to find eligible R&D. In this blog we’ll attempt to explain why this is, and highlight the few areas that are worth focussing on with your hospitality clients.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s good to start out with an understanding of the types of hospitality companies that don’t do any eligible work. In this sector, unfortunately, the answer to this is most of them!

The main thing to avoid here is small: usually single or small groups of hotels, restaurants and other hospitality venues. At this smaller scale, it’s highly unlikely that there will be any eligible work going on, mostly because there’s nothing technical or scientific about the core business, and no urgent need to make scientific or technical advances to improve their services.

Moving up the scale, larger hospitality groups are likely to undertake regular, large projects to improve their venues and service offering. However, these are often focused on commercial or logistical innovations, and again wouldn’t require the company to make scientific or technical advances.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if it’s worth thinking about your hospitality clients at all in the context of R&D, and you’d be right—you’re unlikely to find anything. That said, there are a few narrow areas worth looking at.

Software development projects

Automation of various functions—from hotel check-ins to food-ordering in restaurants—is a hot topic in hospitality at the moment, and will require advances to be made in software science. However, for individual hospitality companies to be able to claim for this type of work, they’ll have had to arrange it in one of two ways:

  • The first option is to have hired in-house software developers who are able to build the required software and identify where the advances and technical uncertainties lie. This would lead to a robust and straightforward claim for the hospitality company.
  • The second, and more common option, is that the hospitality company subcontracts the development work to a third-party software developer. In this situation, the hospitality company would only be able to claim if they know upfront that their work requires advances to be made in software science, and the contract is explicit about this need for R&D.

Food and restaurants

As we’ve discussed previously, recipe development and food production at the restaurant kitchen scale is unlikely to be eligible; there’s just little scope to be making any kind of advance in food science. The one exception to this is at the very cutting edge of restaurant innovation, where chefs are working in the area of, for example, molecular gastronomy. In restaurants like these, they go far beyond any established processes and techniques, and often develop their own production machinery. These new techniques and ways of producing food can require advances to be made in food science, chemistry and engineering, and in these cases would qualify for R&D tax relief.

Supply chain

As with a lot of the less eligible sectors we’ve discussed, the supply chain to the hospitality industry is far more likely to yield eligible claims than the industry itself. For example, developers of point of sale devices or apps to make the checking-in process in hotels easier are likely to be making advances in software science, and food manufacturers producing goods at a large scale to supply into cafes could be advancing food science. Even the laundries working to supply clean linen to hotels could have eligibility, for example in improving cleaning products to lessen the environmental impact, or in tracking systems to enable efficient cleaning and delivery of thousands of items.

Overall, for us hospitality is a ‘no, but—’ industry when it comes to R&D tax relief, so it pays to know what you’re looking for in this sea of ineligible companies.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Your webinar questions answered

Thanks to everyone who joined us at our Ask Me Anything webinar on Tuesday 10th November. This is a brand new webinar series designed exclusively for WhisperClaims customers with one simple objective – to help build your confidence in delivering an effective R&D service for your clients.  This week we kicked off the session with a deep dive into a common area of confusion, how to deal with subcontractors on R&D projects, which led to some great questions being asked by our attendees. We’ve answered those below.

If you have any feedback on our advice or how the webinar went please get in touch – we’d love to hear from you!


Question 1: If you spend £100k with a subcontractor, you would take £65k as eligible? Seems odd, is that designed to avoid contributing to the subcontractor’s general overheads and margin?

Yes, assuming that subcontractor was 100% focused on work that’s trying to make an advance in technology, you could claim £100k x 65% = £65k as eligible expenditure. That 65% apportionment is mandatory and is just one of the rules of the scheme. It’s effectively assuming that the cost of using subcontractors will be greater using employees, and attempting to balance that by removing some of the mark-up.

Question 2: Subcontractor costs can be claimed at 65%. But what if the subcontractor was connected i.e. a subsidiary in another country. Is that different at all?

Yes, there are different rules for connected subcontractors (broadly those that are controlled by the same person or group of people). If you used a connected subcontractor, it doesn’t matter where they are located in the world, but you can claim only the lower of:

a) The payment made to that connected subcontractor; or

b) The ‘relevant expenditure’ of that connected subcontractor, namely staffing costs, externally provided workers (i.e. agency workers), utilities and materials that have been transformed or consumed in the process of the R&D. It does NOT include expenditure on other subcontractors!

Question 3: Can you claim R&D credit at different stages of the project? Or on part of the work done?

A claim for R&D tax relief is made through the company’s tax return, so if the project spanned multiple years, you would expect to submit a claim for each year in which the R&D project was active. However, you can’t make multiple claims for relief within a claim period – for example, if Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the project were all active in the year, you would only be able to make one claim at the end of the year.

Question 4: We are coming across a lot of software development work in getting ‘off the shelf’ systems to talk to each other and reprograming them to interact. The work has been done in house by industry experts that have been employed by the company. Could this be R&D?

Potentially; it depends on the nature and significance of the technical challenges arising in that integration work. If the systems have been designed to work together, it would be difficult to argue that work qualified. However, if you can point to novel technical challenges and explain credibly why those were difficult to resolve, yes, there could be eligibility there.

Question 5: Is there a way of getting work done prior to the formation of the company? It was 100% R&D and done by a connected subcontractor.

No, you can only claim for expenditure incurred after a company has been incorporated. However, the company does not need to be trading for the expenditure to be claimable. For example, say the company incurred £50k of expenditure on R&D in a period in which it was not yet trading. The company has a choice to:

a) Apply for a cash credit for the pre-trading period; or

b) Treat the expenditure as if it were incurred on the first day of trading (which is the default position).

On the second part of this question, if a company has used a connected subcontractor the answer to Question 2 above applies.

Question 6: What do you think is the best way to get authorised with HMRC for R&D only (i.e. without taking the agency away from the client’s accountant)? What’s the best way to submit that authorisation to HMRC?

We’d suggest that the simplest option is for you to ask your client to sign a mandate letter. This authorises HMRC to speak to you about their R&D claim, but makes clear that you are not dealing with other aspects of their affairs. This mandate letter would typically be provided alongside the CT600 and technical report supporting their claim.

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How do grants affect R&D tax relief in the COVID-19 era?

The interaction between grants and R&D tax relief is always a bit tricky to work out, and is something we’ve covered at length before. We’ve also written about how all of the COVID-related financial support, including furlough payments, given to companies affects a claim for R&D tax relief. However, in this era of virus-related uncertainties, we thought it would be helpful to bring all of this together and discuss how advisors can navigate these tricky waters for their clients.

The Basics

Grants & R&D

A quick reminder: the reason that grants and SME R&D tax relief interact is down to European Commission rules around State Aid. Because the SME R&D tax relief scheme is so generous, it is classed as a notified state aid. All other grants can be divided in to two types:

Notified State Aid, and everything else (including de minimis 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.

Taking these facts together with the guidance around R&D tax relief, we come up with three golden rules:

  • You can’t use more than one form of Notified State Aid on a project. This means that if your project has already received Notified State Aid, you can’t apply for R&D tax credits under the SME scheme.
  • You can claim for Notified State Aid-funded projects through the RDEC scheme. If you are an SME with a Notified 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 Notified State Aid – all of its expenditure is affected!
  • Non-notified State Aid grants split a project into SME & RDEC components. If you’re an SME with a project funded by something other than notified state aid, only the amount of the subsidy has to be routed through RDEC and the rest of the project cost can be claim through the SME scheme.


Both the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) have been classified as Notified State Aid. This means that:

  • 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.
  • 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.


While the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) is not classified as any type of State Aid, it nonetheless could have a big impact on R&D claims. Essentially, HMRC will not consider furloughed workers to have been directly or actively engaged in R&D during the time they were on furlough, and so this time, and the furlough payments, will have to be excluded from future R&D claims.

What does this all mean?

Well, what this really means is that R&D claims for companies that have received grants and/or any form of Coronavirus financial support are going to be more complicated for at least the next couple of years. What do we mean by complicated? Here’s an example scenario for you to chew over:

TechCompany A, an SME, has been working on an innovation project for the past couple of years, for which it has received grant funding from Innovate UK. It also carries out eligible R&D at its own expense. When the COVID lockdown was announced, the company was forced to furlough some of its project staff, and took out a bounce-back loan to cover some of its ongoing costs. What do they need to consider, and what will their FY2020 R&D tax claim look like?

Well, first of all they’ll need to make sure that they don’t use any of the BBLS funding to pay for the grant funded project, so as not to fall foul of State Aid rules. They may also want to look at extending their grant if they’ve fallen behind due to furlough.

In terms of the R&D claim, what they will need to do is:

  • Look at which project staff were furloughed, and exclude any furlough (and top up salary) payments made to those staff while they were on furlough from the R&D claim
  • Separate out eligible spending on the grant funded project and route that through RDEC
  • Assess which, if any, other R&D projects were funded by the bounce back loan
  • For the projects that did receive BBLS funding, route the eligible spend through RDEC
  • For the remaining projects, route the eligible spend through the SME scheme

Phew! If this looks complicated, it’s because it is—the COVID-19 situation has injected an extra layer of complexity into what was already a tricky area of tax.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Webinar: Ask Me Anything – Dealing With Subcontractors

Get your R&D tax questions answered live on the spot at our exclusive new event for WhisperClaims customers! Registration is now open.

Ask Me Anything: Dealing With Subcontractors’

Tuesday 10th November

12.30 – 1.15pm.

Book your place

What we’ll be discussing

To kick off the session, this month we’ll be looking at the following scenario and question, submitted by a WhisperClaims user:

The scenario: A tech startup hires a company to develop an app to their specifications.

The question: Overall the work is a technical advance but what determines which party can claim?

To help unravel this, Richard Edwards will be walking us through different scenarios and explaining when each would be applicable.

The floor will then be opened for further questions, either related to this question or to any other matter related to R&D.

If you’re a current WhisperClaims customer with R&D tax questions to ask, don’t miss out, limited places are available so book your place now!


Identifying eligible clients in clothing manufacturing

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the third part of this series, we’re looking at clothing manufacture. As with our previous subjects, the level of eligible R&D to be found in this area is misunderstood, and very often underestimated. If you know what you’re looking for, this can be a very productive area to focus on.

What to avoid

As with our previous subjects, it’s worth taking the time to first think about the types of clothing companies that don’t do any eligible work. The number one thing to avoid is companies that just produce clothes in response to changing fashions using established techniques – no matter how quickly they work to produce cheaper versions of catwalk fashions, there’s almost certainly no eligible R&D involved.

In a similar vein, overcoming logistical challenges in the production of these ‘fast-fashion’ items, such as sourcing suitable fabrics and identifying which factories can manufacture the items at the desired price and volumes, would not constitute eligible R&D. Essentially, this type of work does not advance any area of science or technology, so it’s out!

At the other end of the scale, clothing manufacturers that produce bespoke or couture items are no more likely to be doing eligible work – just because an item is a one-off or handmade does not mean that it requires any amount of R&D to be carried out.

Finally, in things to avoid, it’s worthwhile thinking about HMRC’s rules about using off-the-shelf materials to make new products. In a lot of clothing companies, they take off-the-shelf components – fabric, zips, buttons etc – and combine these into new and different items. HMRC are very clear on this not being qualifying work.

Ok, so what should I look for?

So, now that we know what ineligible clothing R&D work looks like, what areas should you be focussing on?

Responding to new legislative requirements

In common with the food and drink industry, there is a huge amount of legislation that textile manufacturers have to consider, especially around the requirements for flame resistance or fire retardancy. For clothing manufacturers attempting to make clothing for specialist applications, the need to make sure that their clothing complies with these legislations can involve eligible R&D.

Production of clothing for specialist applications

Following on from the above, the production of personal protective equipment and specialist clothing can be a great place to look for eligible R&D. Manufacturers of medical-grade clothing, or protective suits for fire crews or workers in nuclear power stations face a host of challenges that can only be overcome through extensive R&D work. For example, producing suits that shield the wearer from high levels of radiation whilst allowing a full range of movement is very difficult, and requires advances to be made in chemistry and engineering.

New manufacturing techniques

In your more average clothing manufacturer, there may be eligible R&D in the development of new manufacturing techniques. For example, the recent developments in laser stitching techniques has enables materials to be irreversibly fused in a quick and efficient manner. The development of this technique required advances to be made in laser physics, and would typically have qualified for R&D tax relief.

Tracking and delivery processes

Clothing manufacturers might be producing hundreds of different clothing items for multiple retailers simultaneously and tracking each individual item can be incredibly challenging. A lot of these manufacturers have in-house teams of software developers working on this complex software and hardware challenge, making advances, for example, in the area of radio-frequency tracking and big data processing. Working to identify which of your clothing clients has invested time and money into these types of software development projects will often pay off!

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

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Learn how to deliver a cost-effective, systematic and HMRC-friendly R&D tax service

Partners in the firms we talk to are generally looking to develop their practice through two primary means:

  1. Delivering new services to existing clients
  2. Winning new business

Most users have either previously dabbled in the R&D tax market themselves (perhaps finding the legislation too difficult or time consuming to address) or have clients who are working with third party consultants.

In both cases, what they are looking to do is to find a way to take control of this service delivery and build an in-house, own-brand service.

Who can blame them? This is an expanding market, with government investment in R&D soaring to over £22 billion p.a. and the number of SME applicants to the R&D tax market has consistently risen by around 20% p.a. over the last few years.

So what are the steps to safely achieve this?

Whilst it’s true that the documentation on the scheme is quite a read with over 500 pages of guidance, the fundamentals can be easy to get your head around with the right support.

This year we launched a series of webinars covering the ins and outs of the R&D tax scheme; from advice on how to identify eligibility delivered by our in-house R&D tax experts, to panel discussions with members of the WhisperClaims accounting community on how to successfully launch your in-house service.

We deliver a lot of demos of our technology to accountants every month, but we’ve also found that many firms take a slightly more considered approach—preferring to join our R&D tax scheme webinars before delving any deeper.

Watch our most recent webinar

On the 22nd October, Mike Dean and Gillian Carmichael of WhisperClaims were joined by Phil Ellerby from Northern Accountants and Alan Woods from Wood Squared to discuss tactics for delivering an effective in-house service.

Listening to the stories of Phil and Alan will give you the inside scoop on how to optimise your claims process and build a profitable service for your firm.

To access this recording and to be notified of future webinar events, simply complete the form below.

What you’ll receive:

  1. Login details for our ‘Building an in-house R&D tax service’ webinar recording
  2. A monthly newsletter with information on future webinar dates and topics
  3. Updates on the R&D tax relief scheme written by our in-house R&D experts

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 ( 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

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Identifying eligible clients in Food & Drink

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

In the second part of this series, we’re looking at food and drink manufacturing. As with our previous subject, agriculture, the level of eligible R&D to be found in this area is misunderstood. In fact, experts are often poles apart, with some stating that there’s no eligibility at all in food and drink, and others preparing claims for anything and everything!

As with most things, the answer is somewhere in the middle – some food and drink manufacturing can be carried out without ever doing eligible R&D, whereas other companies end up doing a huge amount of qualifying work.

What to avoid

As with agriculture, it’s worth taking the time to first think about the types of food and manufacturing companies that don’t do any eligible work. As a first pass, if you have clients in this sector that produce traditional foodstuffs, for example bread, using tried and tested techniques and without investing time and money in trying to improve their recipes or processes, they’re almost certainly not doing eligible work, so you can remove these from your list.

Beyond this, it’s worth thinking about the scale of the operation, and whether the work they are doing could be done easily in a domestic kitchen. For example, consider recipe development in restaurants – while they are potentially developing new and cutting-edge dishes, they’re unlikely to be doing anything that advances food science, and most of what they do could be done by a skilled home chef.

In fact, in food and drink manufacture, new product development doesn’t often qualify as eligible work, as most of the time the company can use existing knowledge and processes, with some tweaks, to produce and scale these products.

Another ineligible strand of work you often see in food and drink is companies diversifying and starting to produce a range of products that they’ve never offered before, but that are not new to the industry as a whole. Good examples of this might be breweries branching out into producing gin, or cake manufacturers moving into bread production – much as this might be new to the individual company, it’s not an advance to the industry as a whole.

Ok, so what should I look for?

So, now that we know what ineligible food and drink R&D work looks like, what areas should you be focussing on?

Responding to new legislative requirements

Within the food and drink industry, there is a huge amount of legislation that manufacturers are required to comply with, and that changes regularly. Even where there is no legislation, government advice and taxation regimes can affect food and drink manufacturers. For example, increased tax on products that are high in sugar has led to a huge amount of research into sugar alternatives and how to reduce sugar levels without detrimentally affecting the organoleptic properties of these products. Much of this work will have elements that are eligible for R&D tax relief.

Scaling and commercial production

As stated above, new recipe development doesn’t often involve making an advance in science or technology. However, scaling these recipes up to commercial production levels can be difficult, and often involves elements of eligible R&D. Companies that work to produce food and drink on a larger scale, especially where this hasn’t been achieved previously in the industry, are often doing eligible work.

Changes in fashion

As well as legislative changes, food and drink companies are required to respond to changes in consumer requirements. For example, the increase in people following vegan or plant-based lifestyles has led to a huge increase in the demand for vegan alternatives to standard products. Where this requires advances to be made in food science, for example in the production of convincing meat alternatives, you’re likely to find eligible work.

Supply Chain Companies

In common with agriculture, the supply chain to the food and drink industry can be where you are most likely to find eligible work. From engineering companies developing advanced food processing machinery to chemistry companies producing compliant food additives to comply with new legislation, this can be a very rich seam to tap.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Vote for us! – ‘The Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year’

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably considering casting your vote for WhisperClaims at the Accounting Excellence Awards 2020. If so, that’s great! You won’t find us in the main categories (we’re not an accounting firm after all), but our software has been used by accountants to achieve great success in the world of R&D tax relief.

If you want to support us taking home ‘Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year’, there’s a couple more steps than usual, but we’re here to help you speed through them.

NOTE: As you’ll see below, only financial professionals/accountant users can vote in this bracket. If you don’t fit this demographic, then keep your eyes peeled on our LinkedIn for future nominations that are 100% public-accessible!


Head to: You’ll be greeted by the screen below; click on the blue ‘VOTE NOW’ button underneath the section’s title.

Accounting Excellence Voting Page


Input your email address when prompted to do so, and click the arrow to progress.


Fill out the multiple-choice questions with relevant information as it pertains to your financial firm/practice/other.

Accounting Web Voting Section 1


Make sure your vote goes to the correct place:

  • What category would you like to rate a product for?
    From the drop-down, scroll down and select Best Non-Accounting Cloud or Banking App of the Year
  • What non-accounting cloud or banking app are you voting for?
    From the drop-down, scroll down and select WhisperClaims

Accounting Web Voting Section 2


Fill in the sliders at the end (as well as the optional written paragraph if you wish to) and hit send.

And that’s it, you’re done! Each and every vote counts towards our win, so feel free to spread the word to any financial practitioners/accountants in your firm who might also want to help. Voting closes October 26th 2020, so make sure you get in there before it’s too late.

Webinar: “Building an in-house R&D tax service”

Partners in the firms we talk to are generally looking to develop their practice through two primary means; delivering new services to existing clients, or winning new business. In fact, every one of our WhisperClaims app users have engaged with us to address one—or both—of these needs in the first place. Most users have either:

  • Dabbled in the R&D tax market themselves previously, but perhaps found the legislation too difficult or time-consuming to address
  • Had clients who are working with third party consultants, slowing down time and driving up costs.

In both cases, what they are looking to do is to find a way to take control of this service delivery and build an in-house, own-brand service.

Who can blame them? This is an expanding market, with government investment in R&D soaring to over £22 billion p.a. and the numbers of SME applicants to the R&D tax market have consistently risen by around 20% p.a. for the last few years.

So what are the steps to safely achieve such growth?

Our WhisperClaims users have some great stories to tell to bring the whole journey of delivering an in-house R&D tax service to life.

In just two years of operation—all while servicing a niche market—over 250 WhisperClaims users have identified more than £20 million in tax benefits across 750 claims. Within that there are some real nuggets; stories from our users who’ve found claims for their clients worth thousands of pounds, often times from work they never thought would be eligible.

To get the word out, we’re running a webinar later this month that explains the benefits of building an in-house R&D service, with Alan Woods of Woods Squared and Phil Ellerby of Northern Accountants Ltd joining to share their fantastic experiences working with our software to offer real value to their clients.

Spaces still open! Click the button below or the link here for information:

Call to Action to sign up to our Webinar

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims R&D tax relief ebook

Case Study | How Northern Accountants expanded their R&D tax relief service using WhisperClaims

We’re delighted to have Phil Ellerby from Northern Accountants on the blog today to talk about his firm’s expansion into R&D tax relief consultancy using WhisperClaims technology, and how they claimed over £400,000 of tax benefit for their clients within the past year.

Phil is also one of the three speakers at the WhisperClaims ‘Building an in-house R&D tax service’ webinar.

Tell us a little bit about Northern Accountants.

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.

How did you manage R&D tax relief opportunities for your clients before using WhisperClaims?

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.

WhisperClaims R&D client

It takes an hour on average for a claim to be processed using WhisperClaims technology. Are you finding that?

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.

In the first three months we started putting claims through for 9 clients and the tax benefit came in at over £250,000, which is a substantial amount. Since then we’ve claimed for over £400,000 of tax benefit using WhisperClaims technology.

What inspired you to take it in-house?

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.

What makes it quicker for you?

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.

How has it benefitted your clients?

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.

What do your clients think of it?

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.

What do you plan to do to grow your client pipeline?

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.

Northern Accountants, users of WhisperClaims

You mentioned earlier you’ve got 9 clients who are currently eligible for R&D tax benefit, what’s that worth to them?

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.

What impact has WhisperClaims had on your firm?

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.

Northern Accountants, users of WhisperClaims

Are they impacted by the fact that they’re helping organisations?

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“.

How did you find embedding it into the firm?

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.

If you were going to recommend WhisperClaims to someone else, what would you say?

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.

Case Study Interview Image

Looking to follow in Phil’s footsteps?

Phil 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 Phil, and accountants like him, are moving their R&D tax relief services in-house, adopting technology and finding eligibility within their client base.

Call to Action to sign up to our Webinar

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims R&D tax relief ebook

Case study | How Woods Squared boosted claim robustness via an in-house service

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.

Alan Woods authorship banner

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.

Call to Action to sign up to our Webinar

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

WhisperClaims’ take on the Research and Development Tax Credit Statistics 2020

It’s that time again—the Research and Development Tax Credit Statistics have been published, and my inner stats nerd is in full flow!

First of all, the standard points—use of the scheme continues to increase, with 17% more claims submitted in 2017-18 compared to 2016-17 and the amount of support given increasing to over £5.1bn, a 15% year-on-year increase. This is great news for UK companies, with more and more companies accessing support for their R&D activities—15,750 companies claimed for the first time in 2017-18, indicating that awareness of the scheme continues to grow every year.

However, none of that is really news—the trends have been stable for several years now, and the first page of HMRC’s report gives a great summary of these points. What I’m more interested in is using stats to attempt to form a more nuanced picture of the types of companies that are making claims.

We get a lot of questions from our users about how to identify eligible companies amongst their clients, and the easiest thing to do is paint them a picture of the most likely candidates. So, if I twist statistics a little to do my bidding, I could take the modal values from this year’s stats to describe the most common claimants. This means that I could tell our clients to look out for manufacturing companies in London that were formed less than five years ago, making claims of less that £5k tax benefit—that’s the most likely SME claimant according to the stats. However, this information doesn’t line up with my experience of making claims, and is probably not entirely helpful to any of our clients!

Right, how else can we do this? Well, rather than taking the mode, we could look at the median to get an idea of what an ’everyman’ claimant looks like. Under the SME scheme, our everyman claimant is a company of 15-20 years standing, operating in Arts, Entertainment and Recreation, based in Yorkshire and the Humber and making claims of £20-25k in tax benefit. They’re really quite different to our RDEC everyman, who are still based in Yorkshire and the Humber and 15-20 years old, but these companies work in Electricity, Gas, Steam and Air Conditioning and make claims of £30-40k. Hmm, this still doesn’t sound particularly like any clients I’ve ever worked with!

So, what’s the point of this, other than an excuse to spend an afternoon juggling numbers and spreadsheets? Really, it’s that you can’t rely on statistics and basic facts to identify eligible clients—if you do you’ll miss a huge number of opportunities. What’s always missing from any analysis like this is the personal touch—advisors that know their clients well can learn to spot eligibility in the unlikeliest of places, even if that’s the 15 companies registered in the Channels Islands, or the five working in Public Administration, Defence & Social Services that that made claims for SME R&D tax relief in 2018/19.

And this is what we’re all about at WhisperClaims—enabling our clients to put their in-depth information about their clients to good use in making strong, robust R&D claims. This helps strengthen their relationships with their clients, as well as boosting their bottom line—a win/win!

As part of this, we’re expanding our range of eligibility related content to help you more easily and accurately identify R&D. Our other articles and the WhisperClaims ebook cover the bulk of written information, while our webinars directly invite you into the conversation, person-to-person.

For more examples, visit our website and subscribe to our mailing list to stay updated on any new events and resources we have to share with you.


Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Guest Post | Alan Woods: How to submit a claim for R&D tax relief

Here at WhisperClaims, we get many questions about what to do with the eligible expenditure figures that are contained within our reports, and how best to submit claims for R&D tax relief. Now, we’re not accountants, and as such we’re neither qualified nor allowed to offer that kind of advice. Happily, though, we do know some really good accountants with lots of experience of this kind of tax!

To help support accountants making R&D tax claims, we asked Alan Woods of Woods Squared to outline his process and answer some of the more common questions we get asked. Take it away, Alan!

What’s your process for claiming R&D tax relief?

Preparation and submission of an R&D tax relief claim is a five-step process for us:

  1. Calculate the eligible expenditure and prepare a supporting report
    We use WhisperClaims to help us prepare the supporting documents and calculate the eligible expenditure.
  2. Incorporate the R&D tax figures in the tax computations;
    This can be done using the R&D feature in your tax filing software. We enter the value of the expenditure and then run a draft computation. If this results in a tax liability, we check and finalise the tax computations and move on to step three. If it creates a loss, we assess how best to utilise this, and then tell the software whether we want to claim a tax credit or carry the losses forward or backwards before moving on.
  3. Include the claim in the CT600;
    Again, this is done semi-automatically by our tax filing software – we follow the steps in the software and then check that everything is correct. Whichever software you use, you’ll be able to find instructions on how to do this in the help and support section.
  4. Attach the supporting documents and submit the CT600;
    Once we’re happy with the CT600, we attach any supporting documentation and send it off to HMRC.
  5. Wait for payment!

How should I submit the supporting documentation?

While there are several ways to submit the documents, including emailing them directly to HMRC, we simply attach them to the CT600 submission via our tax filing software. We aim to include R&D on original submission if at all possible, so with these we’ll attach the accounts and the supporting documents. Where we have to amend the CT600, we just attach the supporting documents to the amended submission – you don’t need to reattach the accounts at this stage.

The main advantage of this for us is that we get an electronic acknowledgement of submission from HMRC and can be sure that the documents won’t get lost or incorrectly assigned!

Do I need to chase HMRC about claims?

At the moment, HMRC are paying out claims fairly quickly – we’ve had a few recently that have been paid out within a week, and most are paid out within 20-28 days. The only claims we find we have to chase HMRC about are those where we’ve carried losses backwards – these tend to take a lot longer and often need a push.

Quick tip – we prefer chatting to HMRC through their webchat feature. You tend to get a quick response, and, more importantly, you can print off and save the transcript at the end for audit purposes.

Does HMRC pay interest on tax rebates created by R&D tax claims?

Yes! As with any situation where a company has overpaid tax, HMRC will pay interest at the official rate on any repayments of tax due after the submission of an R&D tax claim.

Can I do the submission without tax filing software?

Yes, but it’s a little more difficult. HMRC have provided a step-by-step guide on how to include R&D costs in a CT600, which guides you through the whole process. You can also use HMRC’s online tools.


Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

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Introducing WhisperClaims 2.0!

WhisperClaims 2.0 is here! In response to client feedback, our tech team has been working hard on some fab new features that will further enhance your experience of preparing claims through the WhisperClaims system, including a brand new look and feel and a better way to manage collaborators.

What’s changed?

We’ve prepared a video to take you through the changes in detail.

Subtitles are embedded, and there is a transcript available at the end of this blog post for all who need it.

Summary of changes:

1. A brand new homepage!

WhisperClaims New Homepage

Our new homepage will offer instant access to your most recently worked on clients and claims, and serves as a central gateway page for all your important information. It also includes links to the latest news and resources directly from the WhisperClaims team so you can stay up to date on what’s going on.

2. A new look and feel

Our interface has been given a fresh lick of paint, improved sign-posting and a cleaner more intuitive design. Our fonts and colours will be fully aligned with accessibility standards and our forms have been simplified to ensure that our content is easy on the eye.

3. Easy access to a collaborators tab

WhisperClaims 2.0 new collaborators tab

You told us that adding collaborators in the question set could be simplified, so we’ve pulled that functionality out of the question flow and given you a separate collaborators tab. This allows you to easily view and add collaborators at any point during the preparation of a claim.

4. A new collaborators management page

WhisperClaims 2.0 new collaborators menu

A new collaborators management page makes it clearer which claims have collaborators, what they are working on and offers functionality to add/remove individuals from the list. You’ll also be able to track the status of claims as they work through the process and control their cost access.

We’ve drafted a few Q&As to help prepare you for this switch.

How does this affect current users?

If you are a fan of WhisperClaims 1.0, our current interface, don’t worry! We’ve kept all the things that you’ve told us you like, and the process of preparing and downloading a claim hasn’t changed.

From today, after logging into the app, you’ll see a little widget asking you to “Switch to WhisperClaims 2.0”. When you click this you’ll be moved over to our new interface.Users who do not switch will remain on the WhisperClaims 1.0 interface version for three months. At the three month point we’ll move everyone on to the WhisperClaims 2.0 interface. This will happen automatically and you won’t have to do anything..

How does this affect users who sign up to a license after today?

New users who sign up to WhisperClaims after the launch will automatically be given access to the WhisperClaims 2.0 interface.

What version will collaborators see?

Collaborators on claims will see the WhisperClaims 1.0 interface, regardless of whether you are still using this or the 2.0 version. So for them nothing will have changed. However, we’ve planned a collaborator interface changeover after this initial launch. We’ll keep you updated on that as soon as it’s ready.

Can I get a demonstration of the changes?

The changes will be very minor and shouldn’t majorly affect how you prepare claims, however we are running group webinars for anyone who requires a bit more guidance on these enhancements.

Click on your preferred date for an Eventbrite link and to receive some more information:

For more information on ‘WhisperClaims 2.0’ or any other inquiries, please feel free to contact us at

Video Transcript

Here at WhisperClaims we’re really excited to be announcing the release of WhisperClaims 2.0. What we’ve done is we’ve taken some feedback from you, and we’ve built a less cluttered and more intuitive interface for everyone to use.

Change #1: Homepage
Now the first thing you’ll see that’s really new is the homepage. You’ve now got links to your most recent claims and clients making it easier for you to pick up where you left off last time you signed in, and we’ve give you links to our latest blogs so you can see what exciting content and pieces we’ve released recently.

Change #2: Clients & Claims
We’ve clarified and simplified both the Claims and Clients views, to make it easier than ever to manage your workload, and we’ve added a nice bonus feature: a widget that automatically pulls in the company’s number when you enter the company’s name, just saving you that extra bit of time in looking things up.

Change #3: Collaborators
Now despite this massive change in how everything looks, the app’s questions and the question flow have remained exactly the same as before. What is different is the Collaborators’ section. So, what we’ve done is taken that out of the question flow to make it a lot easier for you to manage.

We’ve grouped all the questions about collaborators, and we’ve put them in their own tab, and it allows you to quickly jump in to that section from any point in the question set and add collaborators and invite them.

You can also control whether they have access to the costs from this section.

We’ve also built a new Collaborators’ view and grouped collaborators based on the claim they’re attached to, just making it much, much easier to see which collaborators you’re working with, and what their status is.

So we’re really happy with our new look, and we hope you will be too. But please: any feedback, any questions, anything like that, just shout out, and we’ll be happy to respond.

Identifying eligible clients in Farming and Agriculture

Something we hear time and again from our clients is that they struggle to identify clients in their client base who would be eligible to claim R&D tax relief. So, in a new blog series, we’ll be digging into some less obvious sectors and discussing what to look for when assessing eligibility!

To kick this off, we’re looking at agriculture and farming. These are industries where most people wouldn’t expect to find cutting-edge R&D, and to some extent they’re right – the majority of farms aren’t doing qualifying work. However, if you know what to look for, this can be a rich seam to mine.

What to avoid

Having said that, it’s worth taking the time to think about what a non-eligible farming or agriculture business looks like. Farming and agriculture businesses that produce food using established techniques, without any attempt to improve through technical or scientific means, are definitely out!

Beyond this, it gets a little more difficult. A lots of crop farmers, for example, buy in new seeds from their supplier and have to spend time optimising the types and levels of irrigation and fertilisation to maximise their crop yields. Although this type of work can be difficult and expensive, it’s unlikely to be eligible because any knowledge gained would be a company-specific rather than industry-wide advance in science or technology. The same goes for the introduction of new technology, such as crop-inspection drones. Using off-the-shelf technology for the purpose for which it is designed does not qualify as eligible work. 

Ok, so what should I look for?

So, now that we know what ineligible farming work looks like, what areas should you be focussing on?

Collaborative projects

Developers of new agricultural technology will often partner with larger agricultural organisations to gain knowledge and enable more rigorous testing. If you know that your agricultural client is working on collaborative projects with technology companies, they’re likely to have an eligible claim, and are definitely worth targeting!

Larger Companies or Co-operatives

As we’ve established, smaller individual farms are less unlikely to be carrying out eligible work. However, as the farming companies get bigger, or form part of co-operatives, you’re far more likely to find eligible work. For example, these types of organisations will often have the skills and funding necessary to embark on in-house breeding programmes, or develop technologically advanced processing techniques and machinery, that would constitute an industry-wide advance. 

Environmental Improvements

Hot topics in farming at the moment centre around environmental sustainability, such as improvements in disease and pest control, increased water efficiency, improved soil management and working to meet new regulatory requirements. Farming clients working in these areas are more likely to have qualifying work, as long as they are seeking to advance the industry as a whole. 

Supply Chain Companies

Saving the best for last, our top tip when looking for R&D in farming and agricultural is to focus on the supply chain to the industry. Whether it’s makers of agricultural machinery, plant and animal breeders or even producers of medications and supplements for livestock, these companies are far more likely to be doing cutting-edge, eligible R&D than individual farms. For example, we stated above that introducing drone technology to a farm would not be eligible for R&D tax relief, which is true. However, developing improved drones, or writing advanced software programmes to enable the assessment of crop health and yield from the air would absolutely involve eligible R&D. 


Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Case study | How Caldwell Penn embraces digital technology to offer proactive advice to their clients

This week, we’re pleased to have Lawrence Evans of Caldwell Penn sharing his views on how advances in digital technology feed into the evolution of the R&D service process, and what this optimisation means for both accountants and clients.

Please introduce yourself 

Hi—I’m Lawrence, Director of Business Development at Caldwell Penn. We are a medium size accountancy practice operating across Surrey, London and the south of England. We position ourselves as an advisory based firm with a full suite of specialised services designed to proactively support our clients in building profitable businesses in the most tax efficient way. We’ve been operating for 28 years with 21 members of staff and we have over 800 clients.

Why is digital technology important? 

Digital technology is now a critical component of our practice and wider business strategy. By integrating the latest technology into our services and operations we can respond quickly to the needs of our clients and offer real-time, proactive advice.

R&D tax is a big focus for you. What strategies do you use to bring in new business?

Yes, R&D tax is a big focus for us both with new and existing clients. We have launched a new website that we hope will raise awareness of our R&D service. There is a big focus on identifying claims within our existing client base as well as bringing new business into our practice. From a marketing perspective we use PPC and SEO to drive prospects to our website, particularly in the local area. We also have Client Relationship Managers who proactively engage with our clients to identify projects which may qualify for R&D. They have lead questions that they use to identify whether or not a client might have R&D projects on the go. Equally all of our staff have been briefed to spot the triggers as to what R&D activities might look like. For example, if a client has recently employed another member of staff for a research project we’ll look at whether there is an opportunity to make a qualifying claim.

Do you need to train your client managers on R&D?

Yes. We regularly train our Client Relationship Managers to understand the qualifying criteria for R&D and to identify potential R&D tax saving opportunities. This will include reviewing the latest management accounts for costs which may relate to R&D projects and discussing latest activities during regular catch-up calls.

We also train our Bookkeeping team on the R&D relief schemes and the types of costs which may indicate a qualifying claim is potentially available. The team are then encouraged to discuss anything they spot with the Client Relationship Manager for further review.

What were the pros and cons of how you were preparing R&D claims previously? 

In-house we were experiencing inefficiencies in the consistency of our claims processes, while externally, when we out-sourced some claims to specialists, we had frustrations dealing with them because we felt we were answering to someone else and had no control over the service they were offering our clients.

We decided to review our in-house processes as a priority and take a more holistic look at how we could be providing our services, which led us to WhisperClaims.

What have you done to optimise your processes?

We onboarded WhisperClaims which answered a lot of our questions around scalability, consistency and being able to roll out a robust service across the team. A drawback to our previous approach was that all of the reports would look completely different if we had an external advisor and an internal advisor preparing claims. We’ve removed that issue by creating uniformed templates using WhisperClaims.

What kind of impact has this had on your clients? 

We’ve seen a positive impact on our clients as the new approach aligns perfectly with our strategy of embracing digital technology to offer proactive advice in a seamless way.

We’ve done a lot of collaboration with our clients using WhisperClaims, which initially we were quite apprehensive about in case they felt that they were having to do all the work themselves, but actually I’ve had nothing but good feedback. From a client perspective, all they do is move some sliders and tick some boxes. It’s about a 10-15 minute job for them and a really smooth journey to input the information we need.

Has there been any client success stories? 

We took on a new client last year who was frustrated with their previous provider. We used WhisperClaims to do their claim remotely, following the question-sets through to completion and then submitting the report to HMRC along with the client’s CT600. He was really complementary about the process because it cut out the paperwork for him. We got a good fee as a result and the client walked away happy. That’s the moment when I realised what WhisperClaims could do for us when effectively aligned to other newly implemented procedures.

What are your goals for the year ahead?

The main goal is to grow our R&D client pipeline from new clients. To facilitate the increased workloads and we are currently building out a specialist R&D team.

We see WhisperClaims as a key component of being able to deliver this in a scalable way. It provides us with a controlled process, so as we grow and more people begin putting claims through, the reports will look exactly the same. WhisperClaims is helping to facilitate our growth. It pays for itself.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

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Update: Furloughed workers and R&D tax relief

Earlier this month, HMRC published guidance on how the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) or furloughed workers scheme, would be treated for the purposes of R&D tax relief. The good news for us is that the advice we’ve been giving our clients and had published way back in July was right! This advice is reproduced below, but the key takeaway is that HMRC will not consider furloughed workers to have been directly or actively engaged in R&D during the time they were on furlough, and so this time, and the furlough payments, will have to be excluded from future R&D claims.

As a reminder, the CJRS was launched in March 2020, and forms the cornerstone of the Government’s support to businesses during the Covid-19 crisis. It originally enabled employers to furlough employees and claim back 80% of the salary costs of these workers from the Government. Version two of the scheme came into force in July 2020, and allows previously furloughed employees to return to work part-time, with the Government continuing to fund to portion of time these employees are not in work.

This scheme has been well received and widely utilised, but, based on HMRC’s recently published guidance, how will the furlough scheme affect a claim for R&D tax relief?

The good news is that the furlough payments are not classified as State Aid, so won’t directly affect the ability of a company to claim SME R&D tax relief. Employees who are furloughed are also not allowed to work, so by definition cannot be doing R&D for the time that a claim is made under the CJRS.

However, what the furlough payments will do is make it a lot more complicated to calculate staff apportionments for R&D tax relief claims. To illustrate this, we’ll work through the case of Bob, a laboratory technician. He works in the R&D team at company A, and spends 80% of his time on eligible activities. He was furloughed from 1st March 2020 to 30th June 2020, and has now been asked to return to work two days a week from 1st July 2020 to 30th September. From this point he expects to return to full time work.

So, how would we work out Bob’s overall R&D apportionment for the financial year Jan-Dec 2020? Let’s look at how he will have spent his time:

  • Five months full-time work
  • Four months completely furloughed
  • Three months working 40% and furloughed 60%

Overall, Bob will spend 6.2 months, or 52% of the year at work. Of this time, 80% is eligible R&D, so his overall apportionment would be 42%. Phew!

This kind of calculation is going to be needed for thousands of workers across thousands of R&D claims over the next year or so, so we’d recommend preparing yourself and your clients now! It’s also important to realise that any company that furloughed their R&D staff, or reduced their spend on R&D as a response to the crisis will see a proportional reduction in the size of their R&D tax relief benefit, so expectation management will be key to happy clients and accurate claims.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Basics of RDEC (Research and Development Expenditure Credit Scheme)

Much of what you’ll read online about R&D tax relief focuses on the SME R&D tax relief scheme, with advice about how to claim, what the benefits are and what kinds of companies can make a claim. This can mean it’s more difficult to find advice and guidance about the RDEC scheme. Here, we give you a basic starter for ten – what is the scheme, who can claim, and what are the main differences between the two schemes!

What is RDEC?

Just like the SME R&D tax relief scheme, the RDEC scheme is a UK Government tax incentive aimed at rewarding companies who undertake research and development, and was introduced in 2016 as a replacement for the Large Company R&D tax relief scheme. It is primarily designed for large companies, that is those with 500 employees or more, or that breach the limits of turnover and balance sheet assets.

As of 2018, the most recent year for which R&D stats are available, only 13% of claims for R&D tax relief were made through the RDEC scheme. However, these claims represented a whopping 48% of the value of total R&D tax relief, with the average RDEC claimant receiving over £300,000 in tax benefit. Even for larger companies, that saving is not to be sniffed at!

How does RDEC work?

RDEC is a pretty straightforward tax relief, especially when compared to the SME scheme. Basically:

  • The RDEC tax credit is equal to 13% of a company’s eligible R&D expenditure
  • The credit is taxable at the Corporation tax rate, so the overall tax benefit is equal to just over 10.5% of qualifying expenditure
  • The credit can be shown ‘above the line’, so is visible as income in the claimant’s accounts

The eligibility criteria, including the definition of a project and what constitutes eligible work are exactly the same for RDEC as for the SME scheme.

As for the qualifying expenditure, there are a couple of key differences. Just like in the SME scheme, under the RDEC scheme a company can claim for:

  • Staff costs, including pensions and bonuses
  • Externally provided worker costs
  • Utilities costs
  • Software costs
  • Raw materials costs
  • Payments to clinical trial volunteers

However, the rules for subcontractor payments and independent research are very different:

  • For subcontractors, only payments made to certain qualifying bodies, individuals or partnerships of individuals can be included in the claim. Payments to any other type of subcontractor, including limited companies, are not allowable.
  • Large companies can also include contributions to independent research, as long as they are made to qualifying bodies, individuals or partnerships of individuals can be included in the claim.

Can SMEs claim RDEC?

In two very specific situations, yes! SMEs can claim RDEC if:

  • They have received grant funding for their R&D. In this situation, some or all of the costs will have to be routed through RDEC, depending on the type of grant received.
  • They have carried out subcontracted R&D on behalf of a Large Company. In this situation, all of the costs of the subcontracted projects have to be routed through RDEC.

The main thing to remember when claiming RDEC relief for an SME is that you must comply with the rules of the RDEC scheme by excluding certain types of subcontractor costs.

How will my client receive their credit?

Once a company has calculated its eligible expenditure, there are seven steps to claiming the tax benefit. The detail of these can be found in CTA 2009 Chapter 6A s.104N and 104O and CIRD89780. In brief, the claimant company must:

  1. Discharge any corporation tax liability for the accounting period.
  2. Adjust to reduce net of tax amount
  3. Restrict to PAYE/NIC of R&D staff
  4. Discharge any corporation tax liability for other accounting periods
  5. Surrender for group relief
  6. Offset against any other tax liabilities
  7. Remaining balance paid to the company

Can I use WhisperClaims to prepare RDEC claims?

Yes! The system has been designed to prepare claims for both schemes, and combined claims where some of the costs go through RDEC and the rest through the SME scheme. There is also a section that helps you assess whether your client is an SME for R&D tax purposes, ensuring that all claims and companies are routed correctly.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

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Case study | How Ammu built their in-house R&D tax service & created a positive cycle of investment

This month we caught up with chartered accountants, Ammu, to find out what they are doing to grow their in-house R&D service using WhisperClaims technology and why R&D tax relief is creating a positive cycle of investment for both them and their clients.

What led you towards offering an R&D tax service?

R&D tax credit is a stream of funding that has been somewhat overlooked by accountants in the past, not least due to unfounded myth and misunderstanding of the scheme. Government statistics suggest that only 10-20% of eligible SME’s have claimed R&D tax credits. A few years ago, I started to look at how I could grow our business and push it a bit further. We got in touch with an R&D specialist who convinced us that R&D consultancy was an opportunity for us and our clients. So we joined forces with them to offer an R&D service to our clients.

What inspired you to bring your R&D service in-house?

After about three years I had built up a bit of confidence to grow our R&D business. I felt that there were some weaknesses in how the R&D specialists were operating. They were overestimating the valuations of claims and charging a very high percentage fee. I questioned the professionalism of this given the purpose of the scheme and started to look around at alternative ways to run our service. I began to look for other specialists to pair up with until I discovered WhisperClaims.

What impact has this had on your firm?

Having an in-house R&D service enables us to grow. We can go to companies, offer them our service and then ultimately, as they grow, they remain as clients with us and the whole chain of events continues.

How does it benefit your clients?

I look for clients who are like-minded and forward-thinking. I tend to click with these people and enjoy seeing them get money back that they can reinvest into their businesses. They go on to hire people, they buy capital equipment and they move their businesses forward.

What appeals to you about WhisperClaims?

I like the structure and the compliance of it. We are already using software for corporation tax and personal tax so I could see clearly how this system could be rolled out. It’s also quick and efficient. We use it to collaborate with clients which enables them to understand the claims process better and gives them confidence.

How do you plan to grow your R&D business?

I hired a development manager last May with a view to running an in-house R&D service.  Our goal was to get more clients coming to us for R&D claims so that they could invest the tax benefit into machinery, people and further R&D activities. As they grow through innovation, we do too.

What tactics do you use to attract clients?

We use various platforms including webinars, blogs and videos to engage with our clients and to identify funding opportunities on an ongoing basis. We’ve already put through 30 claims doing that and we’ve got another 15 on the go at the moment. We’re just about to do a big marketing campaign where we’ll be approaching over 2,000 innovative companies. If accountants like us looked, they’d probably find about 20% of their clients could potentially have R&D claims.

Can you describe a success story or a client win?

We’re focussing a lot on food and engineering because these are the areas that are not claiming R&D tax relief. We’ve created educational content specifically for them and that has driven clients towards us from these sectors. We have an Indian food company that supplies quite a lot of products to supermarkets. It’s all-natural products, there’s no preservatives or anything like that and they’re on to their second round of investment. There’s an engineering firm that wanted to buy a £200,000 crane. We made a claim for them and this massive crane was purchased with the tax benefit that came back.

Should more accountants be preparing claims for their clients?

Yes. There’s a lot of players out there who are inflating claims and giving the R&D sector a bad reputation. They don’t always have the best interests of the clients at heart. Accountancy firms are different, we’re not a separate brand just dealing with R&D. We’re there with you, all the way through. There’s a professional assurance that no matter what happens, we’re going to be there.

How does WhisperClaims help you to support your clients?

WhisperClaims helps build trust because when you collaborate with a client to prepare a claim they become familiar with the criteria. It unfolds in their minds – they get to see a little picture of what’s allowed and what’s not allowed. We reach a depth of understanding that I think others wouldn’t bother to go into. We do the smaller claims too, because we can, because the software allows us to do it in such an efficient manner.

What’s ahead for your firm?

In order to keep R&D consultancy going, I think you need fresh contacts and fresh partners in place. During the financial crisis of 2008 there were a lot of accountants who were going to retire but instead held on. So I think in 2020 there will be a lot of acquisitions available. We’re also interested in working with more accountancy firms to undertake R&D claims for their clients. This would enable R&D tax to become an integrated service within their practice. The main objective for us is to help more businesses with tax relief in order to create a positive cycle of investment.

About Ammu

Ammu is a team of chartered accountants and chartered management accountants based in Central and South West Scotland. They offer a diverse range of services including consultancy on digital systems, tax, compliance, funding, company vision and R&D tax relief. They use cutting edge technology, including WhisperClaims software, to support their clients and enable them to make better business choices.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

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Identifying Eligible Clients webinar questions answered

Thank you to everyone who joined our ‘Get Started: Identifying Eligible Clients’ webinar today to discuss innovation within borderline cases and unusual sectors. We had over 70 WhisperClaims users and members of the industry tuning in and some fantastic questions posed!

If you’re interested in joining our “Get Started” webinar series, please subscribe to our newsletter to be the first to hear about future dates and topics. We’ve got some great themes coming up that will help build your confidence on the scheme and running an in-house R&D service. You’ll find a subscribe button at the bottom of this blog post.

For those who joined us on the 20th August, here’s the answers to your questions.

Q1. Would clothing manufacturers be eligible to claim? This specific company takes previous items of clothing from popular brands, then analyses them to find a more affordable factory or process to create an identical piece of clothing?

In that specific example, the identification of more affordable processes and factories would not be eligible – it’s more of a logistical advance than a technical advance. That’s not to say that clothing manufacturers can’t be eligible – we’ve seen companies, for example, developing advanced RFI tags and tracking software to increase efficiency of clothing manufacture and delivery. In addition, the development of new manufacturing techniques, for example using laser joining in place of stitching, could have some eligibility, as long as the company are seeking to make a technological or scientific advance.

Q2. What is the turnover threshold for a company to claim?

There’s no minimum turnover threshold for a company to claim R&D tax relief. Many start-ups, in fact, make their first claim before they start trading!

There is an upper turnover threshold to be able to claim under the SME scheme. If a company has a turnover over more than €100 million and balance sheet assets of more than €86 million has to claim through the RDEC scheme, no matter how many staff they have.

Q3. What about breweries and distilleries, especially the smaller independent micro-breweries?

There can be a fair amount of eligible R&D in breweries and distilleries. The key things to look for are that they are producing their products in new and technologically advanced ways, or have developed entirely new, technologically advanced ways of brewing or distilling. Projects that tend not to have much eligibility are the more recipe/new product development-type projects, where the advance is more commercial than technical.

Q4. I am thinking of approaching a biomass company that produces energy from household rubbish. Are they likely to have eligibility?

The case of biomass energy generation is an interesting one. Ten to fifteen years ago, this was really cutting edge, but these days the science of how to do this is fairly well established. This means that if your client is using off-the-shelf machinery and standard processes, they probably couldn’t have a claim. However, if, for example, they are working on producing energy from different types or classes of household waste and are having to advance the underlying science or technology to achieve this, then they could have a claim.

Q5. My client has developed some farming machinery which I know would have R&D. However, the commissioning of these systems takes a lot of planning and trial and error – would this be eligible?

Generally, the installation and commissioning of new machinery doesn’t entail any eligible R&D. HMRC’s take is that once the technological challenges have been resolved, the R&D ends. Subsequent work to install the machinery therefore wouldn’t be eligible, unless the installation failed for technical reasons and required the resolution of further technical uncertainties.

Q6. My client installs wind turbines. To do this, each plot needs to be researched and planned out for effectiveness and efficiency, using a surveyor and other professional services. Would this be eligible?

Almost certainly not. This is a case where the project has unknowns rather than uncertainties – the company doesn’t know all the details of the plot, but they know how to find out, and they don’t need to make any advances in science or technology to get there.

Q7. I have a client who has developed a new way to clean car gearboxes whilst reconditioning them…would they be eligible?

It’s difficult to give a definite answer to this one without knowing more details! HMRC would not view the development of a new process as eligible, so if they took an off-the-shelf cleaning product and found a better way to use it, there wouldn’t be a claim. However, if they had to develop a new cleaning fluid, for example, or process the gearbox in a way that it wasn’t intended to be used, then they might have a claim.

Q8. When looking at what the technical challenges were and how they were resolved how much detail do you need to go into?  In some sectors there will be a lot of “trial and error”, experiments etc, e.g. the food sector – what detail do you need to go into?

In terms of talking to your client and assessing their eligibility, it’s best to go into a fair amount of detail, so that you can be sure that the client’s projects are definitely eligible. In terms of how much information to provide to HMRC, it’s always best to give them just enough information to make an informed assessment. So, in the example above, you wouldn’t need to exhaustively detail every single trial carried out, but it is good to let HMRC know what the uncertainties were, that trials were carried out and what they tested, and the outcome of the work.

Q9. I’m currently discussing potential claims with events companies who put together bespoke menus, creating dishes and drinks specifically, would these be eligible?

Absolutely not, I’m afraid. There’s no advance in science or technology in the creation of recipes or the putting together of menus and drinks, so they wouldn’t have an eligible claim.

Q10. I have a client who is in construction and trying to claim for a scaffolding project due to challenge of space and noise. Would that be eligible?

Again, it depends! It sounds more of a logistical challenge in trying to erect scaffolding in tight spaces and more quietly. If that’s the case, they wouldn’t have a claim. However, if they have to do work and make advances in the area of, for example, mechanical engineering to produce a scaffolding system that works in tight spaces and is significantly quieter to erect, then they might have a claim.

Q11. How about professional services regarding new ways of applying knowledge to business growth?

In general, little eligible work is done in by the professional services sector. In the example here, applying knowledge to help businesses grow would be seen as social science rather than the physical sciences, and as such would not be eligible for R&D tax relief.

Q12. I have a lubricants manufacturer client, who has engaged a telecomms and IT provider to come together and to integrate a new communications system with their existing customer payment service to improve delivery of service to EU’s and then integration with CRM so that records are better. Sounds good?

In situations like this, we’d expect the lubricants manufacturer to have an excellent understanding of the functional requirements of the system that they’re trying to build. (By ‘functional requirements’, we mean the features of the software, its defined inputs and deliverables, and how it supports its users.) However, we wouldn’t expect them to be experts in IT/telecomms, especially since they’re contracting in that expertise.

To assess eligibility, we’d be trying to assess what specifically is the advance, and what field does it lie within? A general observation we’d make is that when companies who are experts in one sector are trying to claim for an advance in another (such as IT/comms/software), the claim is much more open to challenge than if they were claiming for an advance in lubrication technology (and coordinating the activities of subcontractors in order to make that advance).While it depends on the specifics of the case, I’d suspect that this company’s claim might not stand up to a detailed enquiry.

Q13. There were numerous questions relating to the situation in which a bakery company subcontracts the development of a new IT system to a specialist subcontractor. Rather than say ’Who is eligible?’, let’s look at two different scenarios; one negative, one positive.

Scenario 1 – The bakery pulls together a specification of a system to automate its workflows and make communication easier between its various personnel. There is nothing particular challenging about that from a software engineering perspective; after all, web-based, database systems have been commonplace for a while. Despite the fact that the system’s functionality is specifically designed for the bakery, there’s no R&D (as defined by HMRC).

Scenario 2 – The bakery wants some software to control some machinery that can place cherries on the top of products with the precision of a human (sounds easy, but isn’t!). This needs fine motor control, perhaps some machine learning, and a lot of image recognition and processing. The requirement for R&D is obvious, by virtue of the fact that the system required is so far beyond what’s available. This situation, in which the requirement for R&D is clear at the outset, is likely to be accepted by HMRC as subcontracted R&D. The bakery in this case would be claiming for the subcontractor’s costs.

In all cases, whether the company or its subcontractor should claim typically comes down to the specifics of: What has the subcontractor been asked to do? Was the need for R&D obvious at the outset? In which area of technology is the advance being made? Who employs the competent professionals in that field? Which company is taking the technical risk? In short, the facts are rarely cut and dried, and judgement must be used to ascertain on which side the eligibility lies.

Why don’t start-ups claim R&D tax relief?

R&D tax relief should be a no-brainer for tech start-ups – they’re usually doing loads of innovative R&D, have eligibility up to the eyeballs and, by definition, are always on the look-out for funding! So why is the up-take of R&D tax relief so low amongst these companies?

During our time in the R&D tax relief world we’ve observed that there are three very common reasons for start-ups not to claim, and none of them are that they are unaware of the scheme!

They’re too busy

they're too busy to prepare R&D tax claims image

Now, we know that busyness is probably the most common reason given by any company to avoid working on their R&D tax claim, but this is especially true for start-ups. Most founders are busy trying to find funding, develop their product, sell the product and grow their team, all whilst being unsure whether the business will even exist in three months – it’s exhausting!

For a founder to take time out of their schedule to work on an R&D tax claim they have to be completely convinced that it’ll be worth their time, which leads on to our next two points.

They’ve had grants and other funding

they've had grands and other funding image

Even now, a lot of companies (and even R&D tax providers!) think that you can’t claim R&D tax relief if you’ve received grants and other funding. This belief is especially widespread amongst start-up founders, which is unfortunate given that they are also more likely to have received grant funding!

Of course, while having received funding doesn’t prevent a company claiming R&D tax relief, it does affect the tax benefit that they can expect to receive. If a start-up founder only has one project with low costs that has been grant funded, only getting RDEC relief might not be worth their time and effort.

They don’t have enough eligible costs

they don't have enough eligible costs image

This can be the killer reason for start-ups not claiming R&D tax relief. In the early days, founder/directors are often completely unpaid or on very low salaries. In the absence of other staff salaries or significant raw materials or subcontractor costs, this can be a complete blocker to making a claim. Furthermore, as start-ups begin to become profitable, founders often decide to pay themselves through dividends, which can keep the eligible expenditure below a feasible level for making a claim.

What can I do for my start-up clients?
helping your clients image

Helping your start-up clients understand the best ways to fund their business and the implications of funding decisions, can be invaluable to their success. For example, being able to advise on the tipping point where taking a grant can actually cost a company money in the long term could help prevent your client taking on the burden of an inadvisable grant. In the same vein, looking at the tax affairs of a start-up holistically could highlight whether taking a salary or dividends is better in the long run.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook


Free webinar: Identifying eligible clients

How do you spot research and development projects within your client base?

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.

Key discussion highlights

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.

Is NPD part of R&D?

  • Dealing with borderline cases: Innovation happens where you least expect it. We’ll be testing your knowledge using real borderline cases.
  • Exploring sector based examples: Take a deeper dive into the more unusual sectors you might come across within your client portfolio.
  • Why tax relief isn’t just for white lab coats: We’ll be de-bunking myths and common mis-conceptions about the scheme.
  • Knowing when not to claim: Look at some real life examples and why they might be rejected by HMRC

Is NPD part of R&D?

Running: 20th August at 12.30pm

Book your place

To book your place please visit our EventBrite page.

For more details on the panel click here. 

New Product Development and the R&D tax relief scheme

Within the world of R&D tax relief, there can be some confusion about what constitutes eligible work. While we’ve covered the basics before, we thought we should go into more detail about one of the thornier aspects of this: what’s the difference between New Product Development (NPD) and eligible R&D, and can NPD ever be eligible?

What is NPD?

While R&D and NPD can often be used interchangeably, there are some distinct differences between the two. New Product Development is the entire process of developing a new product, from initial market research, through design, development, manufacture, marketing, all the way to sales. It can be the creation of an entirely new product or a process to update an older product.

R&D, on the other hand, is the act of creating entirely new science, technology or technical knowledge and developing that into a saleable product. It often, but not always, constitutes the development phase of NPD. From HMRC’s point of view, only the part of R&D that involves seeking an advance in science or technology and overcoming technical uncertainty is eligible for R&D tax relief.

Can you have NPD without eligible R&D?

Yes! In fact, this is often the case. Much NPD involves tweaking or updating existing products, which can be done without any R&D whatsoever. You also see a lot of NPD that does require some R&D, but this R&D isn’t eligible. This is usually where the R&D doesn’t seek an advance or doesn’t involve significant technical challenge.

So, is NPD ever eligible for R&D tax relief?

Is NPD part of R&D?

The entire process of NPD is not eligible for R&D tax relief. However, within NPD, there could be eligible R&D, as long as this R&D meets HMRC’s eligibility criteria. The key thing when claiming for NPD projects is to focus in on the eligible elements and ensure that no costs are captured from any other phase of the project.

Can you give me some examples?

R&D, baking recipes

A great example of non-eligible NPD would be the case of a bakery switching from making cakes to making bread. Bread-making is an established science, and all of the information needed to do this is in the public domain. This means that, although bread is a new product for the bakery, there’s no eligible R&D.

R&D, window-making

Another example of NPD without eligible R&D is where the aesthetic appearance of an existing product is changed without the need for any underlying technical change. This would apply, for example, to new window designs that use established production techniques.R&D, mobile devices

Mobile phone development is a good example of NPD with elements of eligible work. Each time Apple goes through a NPD process and releases a new iPhone, it’s likely that some eligible R&D will have taken place. However, only a fraction of the cost of NPD would be eligible and would reflect how much cutting-edge technology was developed to make the new iPhone possible.

Robot Illustration

At the extreme end, new products release in cutting-edge industries, such as robotics, are likely to have involved intensive R&D efforts, and, especially where prototypes or first-in-class items have been produced, a large proportion of the NPD cost is likely to be eligible for R&D tax relief.

As with all R&D claims, the key is to stay focussed, and help your client to focus, on the underlying advances in science or technology that made the NPD possible. Ask about failures, costs overruns, prototypes and technical challenges – if they can tell you about any of these it’s likely that eligible R&D has taken place!

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook


Exciting changes on the horizon!

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!


Your R&D tax relief questions answered

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

Q1,”In terms of enquiries we are not seeing any R&D enquiries and some of the R&D work that we have seen, completed by boutique firms, hasn’t been good. a) What is HMRC’s approach on R&D enquiries? b) How many enquiries have you seen? c) Do they only look at claims above a certain limit?”

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).

Q2, “Is there any evidence of claims being delayed due to the disruption in normal business?”

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.

Q3, “In terms of record keeping for R&D activities & costs, what does HMRC expect to see in an enquiry? What level of detail do they require?”

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.

Q4, “How can we get the eBook that you mentioned?”

The ebook is available through the Guides section of our website.

Q5, Are you allowed to name a competent professional from the specialist IT subcontractor company?

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.

Q6, “As an advance also applies to appreciably improving an existing process or technology, is there an argument for appreciably improving software & computer science for software projects you are carrying out (re bespoke back office software built for your company)”

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.

Q7, “Who is the final arbiter on validity of technical uncertainty within HMRC if a company disagrees with a HMRC challenge?”

If agreement can’t be reached, then the next step is a Tribunal. However, these appear to be extremely rare.

Q8, “If the IP stays with the company who has sub-contracted the work out to a competent individual – would the company not be in a position to claim R&D”

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.

Q9, “I am registered for the 2.5hr R&D course at the end of Aug. Would you happen to know if that course will cover everything to start our R&D function in our firm”

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 if you are interested in this type of help.)

Q10, “How do you avoid making a claim for the same R&D via subcontractors ?”

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.

Q11, “Would there be also recording for the course on August? It will be good because we can refresh ourselves”

We don’t have plans to record those at present, as those courses are premium content and only available on a live basis.

Q12, “Apologies if I missed this at the beginning but can you give a bit more detail on HMRC’s point that R&D should ‘advance the overall knowledge or capability in the field of science or technology and not just the company’s own state of knowledge or capability’?”

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.

Q13, “Does this mean that HMRC expect you to be making your advance made available to the wider industry? How do you prove you’ve advanced the wider field when you have company trade secrets that are not always readily available?”

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.)

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook


Can I help my clients get their R&D tax relief sooner?

Companies are always keen to improve cashflow, and R&D tax relief can be a great way to do this – they can either bring cash in as a tax credit or reduce their tax bills. For companies struggling in the current economic climate the timing of this can be crucial, so here are our tips to making sure that your client gets their benefit as soon as possible!

Has the claim already been submitted to HMRC?

HMRC Claim SubmissionIf the claim is already with HMRC, there’s very little you can do – the claim will be processed when the claim is processed and that’s that!

Has the client’s year end passed?

Has the client's date passed?

If the client’s year-end has passed, you’ve got an opportunity to get the claim in quickly! This does, of course, depend on your client cooperating and getting all of their financial year end information to you. Informing them of the size of their potential tax benefit could be a way to incentivise them to move faster, as can making sure your R&D claim process is quick and easy for both you and your client.

Is the client part-way through their financial year?

If your client is still part-way through their financial year, you’ve got a great opportunity to make sure that they get their money faster once they hit their year-end. Encouraging your client to keep clear records about the projects they have undertaken during the claim year, alongside details of money spent on R&D, can substantially reduce the time needed to prepare a claim. You can even go as far as advising them on how to set up their financial reporting and cost codes to make this as simple as possible come year end.

Changing end-of-year for tax

However, if your client is still six months away from their year end and desperate for cash, no amount of advance claim preparation is going to help them. This is where you can deploy the final weapon in your armoury – a change of financial year end. If you know that they’ve racked up significant R&D costs over the financial year so far, it could be advantageous for them to shorten their financial claim year and make a claim now rather than waiting for months!

Of course, it’s always better to do a little of everything – make sure you have a slick and robust process for preparing claims and taking the time to make sure your clients have the processes in place to properly record their projects and spending will be beneficial to all, no matter what the economy gets up to.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook


Should my client surrender losses for an R&D tax credit?

Advising your client on how best to utilise the tax benefit from an R&D tax relief claim can be complicated, especially when it comes to surrendering losses for a tax credit. Here’s our quick guide on what you need to consider.

What is an R&D tax credit?

Put simply, an R&D tax credit is a cash payment given by HMRC to loss-making companies that surrender losses generated by the R&D claim rather than carrying the losses forward to future tax years. Guidance on how to calculate a tax credit is given here, but essentially a company calculates the amount of losses they can surrender and is then given 14.5% of this amount back in cash.

Why not take the cash?

Why not take the cash?

For a loss-making company, the relatively quick and easy injection of cash received through an R&D tax credit can be a no-brainer – why on earth would they choose anything else? However, there are a few things to consider before committing to taking the cash:

Could the company carry the loss back?

Could the company carry the back the loss?

If the company made a profit and paid corporation tax in the previous tax year, it might be better for them to carry the loss back and get a rebate on tax already paid.

Is the company part of a group?

Is the company part of a group?

If the company is part of a group and another member of the group is in profit and likely to have a large corporation tax bill, it could be that using group relief rules to surrender the losses to the profitable company is more beneficial.

Is the company likely to make large profits in the near future?

Is the company likely to make large profits in the near future?
If the company knows that it is likely to make a large profit in the following tax year, carrying the losses forward to reduce future tax bills could be the best course of action.

However, if the answer to all of the questions above is no, then it’s likely that the company would benefit most from taking the R&D tax credit and enjoying the cash boost!


What’s the difference in benefit?

So, what does this all mean in terms of actual difference in tax benefit? Well, this depends on both the profit/loss position of the company, and whether the losses can be used as above.

Imagine Company A has £100,000 of eligible expenditure. How would its tax benefit differ for different profit/loss positions and for the scenarios given above?

Table of an example of different profit/loss positions

*Remember than in this scenario, the company has already had a tax benefit of £9,500 by reducing their taxable profits to £0.

Looking at the table above, it again seems like a no brainer to always carry the losses forward or back or utilise group relief. However, if a company is deciding between carrying losses forward or taking the tax credit, there’s one more thing to consider – would a smaller amount of cash now be worth more than a slightly larger amount of cash in the future?

Consider a fast growing start-up company investing their tax credit in more R&D, for which they expect an internal rate of return of 50%. In the first scenario above, the £11,600 tax credit is worth £17,400 in a year’s time, significantly more than the benefit of carrying the losses forward!

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Book a place on our training course and learn the fundamentals

Build confidence to deliver a new R&D service & start earning revenue through R&D tax consultancy.

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.

About the course

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.

  • Feel empowered: Learn to discuss the scheme more clearly with your clients.
  • Be informed: Get to grips with the HMRC guidelines on R&D tax relief. Learn what sits under the SME scheme vs RDEC.
  • Build awareness: Understand the context of R&D tax across different industries.
  • Build confidence: Learn how to identify eligible clients and projects.

Open courses

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.

Book a place

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Closed courses

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

Contact us to arrange a date

When should you advise your client not to claim?

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.

1. They’re not eligible.

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.

what not to claim for

2. They’re not comfortable claiming.

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!

3. You’re not happy with the claim.

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.

4. They could get better tax relief from other schemes.

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.

5. They’re applying for a grant.

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.

6. The R&D work belongs to someone else.

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.

7. The return on investment isn’t worth it.

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.

Brush up on the fundamentals of the R&D tax relief scheme

Streamline your claims processes and get expert advice on the R&D tax relief scheme.

Download your copy of our eBook.WhisperClaims ebook

Avoiding HMRC enquiries

An HMRC enquiry is simply the process by which HMRC ask questions or seek clarification on certain aspects of an R&D tax relief claim. It can be triggered by something in the claim itself, or may be part of wider reviews or spot-checks that HMRC carry out to assess their own processes.

Can you avoid enquiries?

Short answer: no.

Long answer: Still no. HMRC reviews every tax return and R&D tax claim to some extent, and will always choose a certain proportion for more in-depth reviews. They also enquire into R&D tax claims as part of a wider review of a company’s tax affairs, so there’s no fool-proof way of completely avoiding enquiries. Having said that, you can do a lot to keep the risk of enquiry at the baseline level. Badly put-together claims are always at a higher risk of being enquired into, especially if they contain certain triggers.

What can trigger an enquiry? 

Over our years of working in the world of R&D tax, we noticed there were a handful of things that hugely increase the risk of an enquiry:

  • Changes in claim size: Companies with a history of making claims of a certain size can find themselves facing an enquiry if the claim suddenly jumps in size. It can suggest to HMRC that the claim has been overstated, especially if there hasn’t been a similar increase in turnover or staff numbers.
  • Disproportionate claim size: Claims where the eligible expenditure is a large proportion of the turnover can look a bit wonky to HMRC. This is particularly true for manufacturing and food production companies, where HMRC would expect the vast majority of staff time and resources to be devoted to business as usual.
  • Claims from unexpected sectors: Claims made by companies that operate in sectors that would not traditionally be associated with R&D can raise eyebrows. This is especially acute for non-tech companies that have carried out software related projects.
  • Lack of alignment with accounts: It’s really important that the costs included in an R&D claim align with the published accounts for the claim period. If, for example, grants are listed in the accounts but this is not reflected in the R&D claim, this can trigger questions about whether the grants were used for R&D.
  • Doesn’t look like R&D: If HMRC read the technical narrative and can’t understand what R&D was undertaken or how it fits with the requirements of the scheme, they’ll have a lot of questions!

How do I reduce the risk?

The good news is that it’s usually easy to avoid these triggers, or mitigate the risks they introduce. First and foremost having consistent, reliable processes for pulling together R&D claims is key. This makes sure that nothing is missed and there’s a good audit trail of why certain projects and costs were included.

Once you’ve got the process worked out, it’s vital that it is well documented by the technical narrative. Ensuring that all of HMRC’s questions are answered without including any irrelevant information is key. For more information on how to write a good technical narrative read this article.

Finally, there will always be eligible claims that contain triggers that can’t be removed, so it’s important to mitigate them as much as possible. For example, if a company’s claim has quadrupled from one year to the next, include a sentence or two in the technical narrative explaining this increase. It’s good to acknowledge to HMRC that a claim might look unusual and answer any specific questions they might ask about this before they ask them.

How worried should I be about enquiries?

HMRC don’t publish statistics about enquiry rates for R&D tax claims, but we know from our own data and that of other providers that 0.5-2% of claims are enquired into. Even then, as long as you’re confident that the claims that you submit are robust and compliant, an enquiry is no reason to panic. In fact, we find that they can be a great opportunity to have a conversation with HMRC about their current interpretation of the guidance and how they like to see claims presented.

How does the WhisperClaims app help?

If you are currently using the WhisperClaims app, or thinking about it, here’s a quick recap of the features that will steer you in the right direction when it comes to preparing robust, HMRC-friendly claims through our platform.

  • A robust question-set: our questions poke into each corner of the legislation meaning you won’t forget to include important information in your client’s claim.
  • Consistent, reliable process: the app offers you a very structured and repeatable claims preparation process.
  • Clear indicators of eligibility: you’re faced with end points during the claims preparation process if your client’s project details do not meet the eligible criteria.
  • Objective decision making: the app provides you with an objective decision making tool, rather than relying on your subjectivity on whether a client may or may not be eligible.
  • Screen out borderline cases: you can use the tool to screen for borderline cases and avoid wasting time pursuing claims that may not be eligible.

Looking to create an HMRC-friendly R&D claims preparation processes?

Our ebook is loaded with helpful tips on how to streamline your claims processes and offers expert guidance on the R&D tax relief scheme. Download your copy.

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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.

What should an R&D technical narrative include?

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:

  • Which areas of science or technology was the company operating in?
  • What technical advances did the company seek to make during the claim period?
  • What technical difficulties did it meet along the way?
  • Did the company use competent professionals to carry out the work?

Once you’ve covered these four points, you’re most of the way there!

Best practice

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.

What not to do

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.

How does WhisperClaims help with technical narrative?

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.

Brush up on your R&D claims knowledge

Our ‘Accountants’ Guide to Preparing R&D Tax Claims’ offers helpful advice on the fundamentals of the R&D tax scheme. Get your free eBook today. WhisperClaims ebook

The art of preparing R&D tax claims while working remotely

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:

Day 1:

Goal: Set up my R&D claim from the sofa; Feed the kids!

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.

Day 2:

Goal: Prepare an R&D claims report; Escape childcare carnage!

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.

Image of jen badger at whisperclaims
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.

image of jen badger of WhisperClaims
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!

Have you had your WhisperClaims demo yet?

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!

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

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Why WhisperClaims qualifies for R&D tax benefit for advancement in software development

Our Operations Director Jen Badger explains why developments in WhisperClaims technology qualifies for R&D tax relief and why we’re making ‘an advancement in software development’.

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?

WhisperClaims team

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.

Richard Edwards & Jen Badger, WhisperClaims

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!

How Sole Associates reshaped their claims processes and brought R&D tax consultancy in-house

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.

Could you tell us a little bit about your firm?

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.

Did you have a knowledge of R&D before you started doing claims in-house?

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.

What processes did you adopt?

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.

How do you spot eligible clients?

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.

What sort of projects have you found are 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.

What are the benefits of using software to help prepare claims?

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.

How has having an R&D service benefitted your firm?

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.

What will you be focusing on in 2020?

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.

About Sole Associates

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’.

When does an R&D project start and end?

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?

The phases

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.

The start of the project

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.

The end of the project

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!

Coronavirus funding and R&D tax relief claims

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.

So, what does this mean for R&D tax relief?

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.

Avoiding red flags & common mistakes

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!

1. Confusing commercial details with technical and scientific details.

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!

2. Assuming that trial and error is eligible.

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’.

3. Claiming for software installation and optimisation.

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.

4. Confusing commercial and technological uncertainties

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.’

5. Using ‘Red Flag’ words

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!

WhisperClaims services to help firms support SME clients during coronavirus

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.

Help with new R&D claimants 

To help take the strain off our most time-pressed accountancy customers, for the next eight weeks we’ll be dedicating resources to:

  • Helping you identify which Limited companies could benefit from R&D tax relief;
  • Screening those clients for eligibility and getting them set up on the system.

This will allow you to fast-track companies who haven’t claimed before.

More users and training 

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.

Further support in processing claims – blending our expertise with yours

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.

We can:

  • Explain to clients the rules, pitfalls and opportunities of the R&D tax relief scheme;
  • Walk clients through the system or their answers, ensuring they’re comfortable with their statements and compliance with the rules;
  • Review R&D reports or client data, giving you specific feedback on risks and red flags;
  • If you are extremely pushed for time, we can process all aspects of your client’s claim, providing you with the report and numbers for inclusion into the tax return.

If you want to discuss any of the above, you can get in touch on:

or 0800 211 8197. 

We’re here to help.

How to remotely prepare R&D tax claims

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.

Video calling

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!

Screen share

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.

Great news for R&D from Budget 2020

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.

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Is it better to take a grant or rely on R&D tax relief to help fund R&D?

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.

Where’s the tipping point?

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.

a chart showing how grants affect the benefit received by a profitable company with an eligible R&D spend of £150,000

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.

Jen’s take on the recent changes to Employment Allowance, Grants and R&D tax relief

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.

So what changes can we expect to see?

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.

What does this mean for R&D tax relief?

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.

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 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.


Festive opening times

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!

R&D tax relief trends for 2020 – Richard’s predictions!

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:

1. A ‘digital R&D champion’

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.

2. Invested in business process design

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.

3. Trained & educated their Client Managers to spot R&D

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.

4. Growth targets

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.

What R&D trends do we expect to see in 2020?

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.

About Richard

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.

5 ways to optimise your R&D tax claims process

Tips to keep your R&D tax claims on track

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!

1. Avoid unnecessary duplication

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.

Making R&D tax claims easy

2. Use cloud based technology to gather client data in advance

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.  

3. Build your team knowledge

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. 

Richard Edwards, WhisperClaims

4. Collaborate with your client

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.

5. Reduce the time it takes to put a claim through

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.

Have you had your WhisperClaims demo yet?

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.

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

>>> Book your demo today >>>

7 ways to successfully embed R&D software into your firm

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. 

1. Mind the gap

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. 

Mind the gap

2. Find your champion

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!

3. Education, education, education

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.

training your staff in R&D tax relief software

4. All aboard!

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.

5. Testing, testing

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. 

r&d tax software for accountants

6. Results and rewards

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!

7. Roll-out

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!

Have you worked out if your clients are eligible for tax benefit yet?

Get some useful tips from our free online guides.


Reservoir Dogs or The Beatles? Meet the team

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…

The ones who switched the light bulb on

Here’s Mike Dean, Richard Edwards, Jen Badger and Rick Henry, our four directors.

Directors of WhisperClaims

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.

Richard Edwards & Jen Badger, WhisperClaims

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.

WhisperClaims team

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.

Rick Henry, WhisperClaims

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.

Richard Edwards, WhisperClaims

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.

The ones who made it shine brighter

Through 2019, WhisperClaims has gone from strength to strength. Highlights have included expanding our team, with our first additional developer, Upul, joining in January…

Upul Dissanayaka

Suz, our Sales Coordinator, in April…

Suz Harkness

Then Gillian our Marketing Manager in June…

Gillian Carmichael, WhisperClaims

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.

So Reservoir Dogs or The Beatles?

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.

WhisperClaims team

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. 

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

>>> Book your demo today >>>

Or get in touch to find out more about WhisperClaims.

Our story: disrupting the R&D tax relief market

When you start to build a business, it’s inevitable that you’ll have a number of goals in mind. For us, it was a mixture of things, but a core driver was to create something that could push boundaries and had the ability to shake-up and simplify the UK R&D tax relief consultancy market for the better. 

After years of working in R&D tax consultancy, the team and I had observed a vast number of companies being turned away for R&D tax relief consultancy because accountancy firms were unable to process their claims. We made it our mission to resolve this problem.  

Navigating the R&D tax scheme

R&D tax relief was introduced for SMEs in 2000 and extended to large companies from 2002. The scheme is designed to encourage greater R&D spending, leading in turn to greater investment in innovation and is one of the main tenets of UK government business support. The more innovation, the more likely we are to remain competitive as a nation, or so the mantra says, and in the current climate UK businesses need all the help they can get.

Our observation was that many SME’s, especially the ones with smaller potential R&D claims, found it hard to get support to access the scheme. Many didn’t know that they are eligible, and even if they did, the 500 pages of HMRC guidance on the scheme was difficult to navigate!

Consequently, only around 43,000 claims were made under the R&D tax scheme in 2015-16, a tiny proportion of the UK business population and certainly only a small percentage of SME’s with eligible activities.

The landscape now

According to HMRC’s statistics, UK companies spent £31.3 billion on R&D during the 2017/18 financial year. This resulted in support from the Treasury of £4.3 billion, creating an estimated £1 billion in fees for accountants and specialist R&D tax relief consultants.

So, with so much to gain why don’t more accountants support their clients to make claims?

In the last two years, we’ve had the pleasure of personally meeting over 300 accountancy firms and have uncovered a few key issues with their processes:

  • Lack of knowledge of the scheme. It’s seen as a niche tax area, many firms don’t have the knowledge and are fearful of providing poor advice.
  • Lack of knowledge of their clients business or technology. Many accountants will say that they don’t understand technology so are unable to assess their clients potential eligibility for the scheme from that perspective.
  • The return on investment. The market for R&D tax support has grown substantially over the last 10 years or so and is dominated by specialist providers who offer “no win, no fee” contingent fees. Many of them are hugely successful firms that do great for their larger clients, but for whom it isn’t always economically viable to work with smaller claims. 
  • Time consuming. Preparing claims for R&D tax relief without technology can be a time-consuming and difficult process, resulting in a buoyant market for consultants who help companies with their claims. Claims can take weeks or months to prepare through traditional methods, which is expensive for both the consultant and the client.

So what we have is a sector that, certainly from the perspective of the smaller SME, has a couple of structural problems. At one end, we have an army of high quality accountancy professionals who don’t have the knowledge to be able to provide support to their clients in this niche area, and at the other end we have specialist providers whose business model means that they are unable to support smaller claims.

Finding a solution

Given the importance of the scheme and the fact that it is there to provide support to innovation and business growth in the UK economy, it seemed to us that there ought to be a role for technology to play in solving this problem, and thus opening up the scheme to a broader base of businesses.

And so our idea was born – a cloud based platform, easy to use, with all the help and guidance you could need to build your own R&D tax claims. 

The system is white-labelled so any accountant or consultant can use it with their clients without the fear of affecting their brand value. 

It’s also capable of producing all the documentation needed to support an R&D claim within an hour, which enables accountants nationwide to service more clients and scale up operations without recruiting more staff.

Reports at the touch of a button

The most innovative aspect of the solution is our technology’s ability to create comprehensive, detailed reports suitable for submission to HMRC at the touch of a button. 

To prepare a claim, users of our technology are led through a responsive question set, probing all of the key areas of a claim to ensure that the end result is robust and defensible. Users can also invite their clients to sign-in and answer questions.

Unlike other systems that purport to generate reports, our system is capable of doing so without any free text entry – instead using a variety of sliders, multiple choice questions and numerical inputs to collect information about the client and their claim.

From a technical perspective, converting data into naturally written R&D reports was challenging to achieve and no other company has managed to achieve anything close to this level of automation. The time savings are considerable: a process that can weeks or months has now been reduced to an hour.

It’s going well

Since development began in January 2018, our technology has won ‘Best Use of Innovation’ at the UK Business Technology Awards 2018 and the company has won ‘Emerging FinTech Company of the Year’ at the Business Insider Scottish Accountancy & Fintech Awards 2019.

whisperclaims team

In developing WhisperClaims, we have shown that it is possible to digitise a complex form of consultancy that was previously resistant to automation.

Where do we go from here? Scaling, testing, refining & listening to what the market needs. We’ve got plans to recruit two more members of staff over the next 12 months (read more about our team), to grow our UK customer base and to create new features and services to meet demand. It’s going to be an exciting year ahead and a huge thank you needs to be said to our customers and to our massively talented team here at WhisperClaims for helping us to get to where we are.

Image of Mike Dean

Mike is Director of Sales & Marketing at WhisperClaims. He spent the 14 years prior to WhisperClaims as an Interim Director, coach and trainer in SME businesses across multiple sectors. Mike leads on engaging the marketplace and making sure that accountants and consultants are maximising the value of our technology in their businesses. Get in touch to chat to Mike in person.

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. 

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

>>> Book your demo today >>>

Lies, damned lies and statistics

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.

WhisperClaims nominated for the Scotland Tech 50

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!

We’ve been shortlisted for the Scottish Financial Technology Awards!

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!

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.

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

>>> Book your demo today >>>

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.>>>

Don’t miss out on a lucrative R&D tax relief payout!

“How can I identify clients that are eligible to claim R&D tax relief?”

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!

A process of elimination

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.

Narrow down the industries

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.

70% of claims

Identify the qualifying work

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. 

Simplify your claims process

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.

Up to 33% back in R&D tax

Claimants can get back up to 33%!

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!

<<<Get your head around R&D tax relief. Read our free guides for helpful hints and tips. >>>

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 >>>


Emerging Fintech Company of the Year 2019 – another win!

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!

Click here to read more about the awards, and see some more pictures of us in our finery!

How technology is starting to impact the R&D tax market – FreeAgent Webinar 27th March 2019

We had the great pleasure of being hosted by our friends over at FreeAgent back in March, where we delivered a webinar on the impacts of technology on the R&D tax market.

Delivered from the in-house studio at their Edinburgh HQ, the webinar attracted an audience of almost 100 accountancy firms from across the UK. The session covered off some of the key stats that we see in the market, the overall growth of the R&D tax scheme and our observations about the direction of technology in this particular area of tax and accounting.

Of course, we also got to talk about our WhisperClaims platform and some of its key features, including the fact that it’s white-labelled and therefore allows our users to maintain their brand presence with their clients (as opposed to farming work out to expensive consultants!), and our capped pricing which means your service will always be competitive and profitable!

The session wrapped up with some great questions, covering areas including:

  • Accountant accreditation to complete R&D claims – is it necessary to register with HMRC or anyone else to be able to complete claims? No, this is an unregulated market
  • How does your system ensure quality service delivery? We have a comprehensive and robust approach to the process of building a claim – user feedback suggests this is much more thorough than the existing, consultant led approach
  • What’s the likely impact of Brexit on the R&D tax scheme? Blimey, we didn’t expect this one! – but it’s interesting to note, at least anecdotally, that recent M&A activity in the R&D consulting sector has been led by overseas firms buying in to the UK – PR around this suggests that the UK market is attractive to international investors because, post-Brexit, tax incentives will continue to be a necessary part of stimulating the economy
  • Does the WhisperClaims system integrate with other accounting platforms? Watch this space!
  • Clarification of our pricing model. Does WhisperClaims address very small claims? Yes, we do! We have a  low capped fee on our reports, so no matter how big your claim, our pricing stays low. For very small claims, we charge a % of eligible expenditure so no matter how small the claim, it will always be worth downloading
  • How much training and scheme awareness is needed to create a claim for a client for the first time? We have a comprehensive on-boarding process. More importantly, post on-boarding, users have access to help within the system, tailored to every question, that offers a short help video, some key pointers and direct links to the relevant HMRC guidance. Additionally, we’re always at the end of the phone to provide help and guidance. So, there’s no need for you to be an “expert” – we’re here to help!
  • Does the system provide guidance on whether a project is eligible, or is that left up to the user to decide? Absolutely it does! Fundamentally, our system has been designed based on many years of experience as consultants in this market – Richard, one of our Founders, was a founder Director in one of the UK’s largest consultancies – and has been designed precisely to address the needs and expectations of HMRC in justifying eligibility

Our FreeAgent host for the morning, Kevin Lord, did a great job of compering the session and making sure we answered all of the questions – we can’t wait to be back for another FreeAgent webinar!



HMRC’s new portal for submitting R&D claims – here’s what we think

With not much in the way of public fanfare, HMRC recently launched their beta online platform to support the submission of SME R&D claims. As we’re in the R&D software platform business ourselves, you can imagine we had been awaiting this development with bated breath! So, now that it’s broken cover – what does it look like and what’s it for?

Well, our first impressions are that the tool is surprisingly basic and comes with a couple of fairly substantial limitations. The good things first – it allows SMEs to present their R&D claim information directly to HMRC. They can enter the usual costs – employees, connected and unconnected EPWs and subcontractors, software, consumables and costs for clinical trial volunteers. They can also enter a technical description of their projects, covering the baseline state of technology, the advance attempted, and the technical challenges faced on the way.

The big catch is that the portal assumes that the SME knows what they want to claim for – and that’s a big assumption. If you’ve ever been asked to assist with a client’s claim, you know that they usually need help in assessing their SME status, the boundaries of their R&D, and whether their work would even be considered eligible by HMRC. In the new portal, however, there’s not much in-built support to help claimants or agents who are unfamiliar with the scheme to answer these questions. It also doesn’t help companies to calculate whether they’re an SME, or support SMEs who have received grants, or undertaken work as a subcontractor to a Large Company. This means that complex claims with expenditure eligible under the SME and RDEC schemes are essentially not supported at all. That affects a pretty chunky number of companies, particularly within the life sciences and manufacturing sectors.

Maybe these areas will be addressed in the future. In the meantime, we’re confident that WhisperClaims, our award-winning cloud based platform for R&D tax submissions, will continue to prove more useful (and useable) to our accountancy clients, helping them generate significant additional revenues by delivering truly comprehensive R&D support to their clients.

“Tech Start-ups don’t need MD’s”

Great article about our management structure and, well, overall approach to managing our business, published in todays BusinessCloud and written by Tech Journalist and Editor, Mo Aldolou:

2018 UK Business Tech Awards – we won!

When we were first shortlisted for the “Best Use of Innovation” at the UK Business Tech Awards, we were over the moon at being recognised as part of a cohort of eight outstanding shortlisted businesses. The shortlist included a household name with a high profile and an extremely catchy TV advert, and a couple of businesses with significant VC backing.

Imagine how pleased we were on Tuesday night when we were announced as Winners!

A few days later and we’re still reeling from the whole experience. Not because we are surprised to have won, because of course we think we’re awesome, but simply because it’s such a great feeling that peers in the tech sector recognise that what we have achieved with our WhisperClaims app has been a difficult challenge, requiring great levels of technical insight as well as significant domain knowledge in the sector.

Our market reach continues to expand, with users in both the accounting and business consultancy sectors embracing our technology to build new revenues and remove costs from existing processes.  In line with this, our technical team is expanding so that we can continue to embrace innovation, developing new features and refining the user experience whilst thinking about new markets to exploit in the future.

Whilst all of this work continues, we are delighted to just take a moment to enjoy our success.

Here’s to another great year in 2019 – let’s see what we can win next year!

Click here for a Video of Richard & Jen immediately after winning the award – still in a state of shock!




HMRC R&D stats 2018 – what’s new?

It’s that time of year again. All over the country, R&D tax credit advisors and consultants are locking themselves away in darkened rooms, often with a marketing expert sitting alongside, and poring over the latest R&D tax credit statistics from HMRC. Their aim? Breaking the statistics down into nice, neat bitesize chunks to be pumped out into a series of blogs, tweets and posts. It’s thrilling, and we just can’t resist joining them!

Here at WhisperClaims, we might not have a darkened room or even a marketing expert to hand, but we are massive statistics nerds, and boy, are these massive statistics (badoom-tish!).

So, what have we learned from the Research and Development Tax Credits Statistics of September 2018? We could go on about how, if you look at the statistics one way, manufacturing companies are not making enough claims, or about how the number of claims made by Large Companies appears to be stagnating, but we’d rather focus on the good news – more and more companies making R&D tax credit claims.

In financial year 2015-16, 39,765 SMEs made claims for R&D tax credits, an increase of 25% compared to FY 2014-15. For the financial year 2016-17, 37,360 SMEs have already made claims, and this number will continue to increase over the next year as clients reach the deadline for claiming. When we crunch the numbers, we predict that this will reach over 47,000 claims.

What does this mean for the R&D tax credit market? Well, these numbers prove that the growth in R&D tax credit claims comes entirely from the SME market, many of whom are first time claimants making small claims, for whom the traditional consultancy approach just isn’t suitable as processing costs for claims, and ultimately the market price for such services, are simply too high. As this trend continues, consultants and accountants will be coming under increasing pressure to process more claims, for smaller companies, at rock-bottom prices and margin. How can this be done? Given the costs of running a consultancy team, that’s a pretty difficult challenge – but one that WhisperClaims was specifically created to tackle. See what the software does at – we’re confident that you’ll see the benefits for yourself during a 30-day subscription-free trial!

And if you want to read the full HMRC report, you can find that here

How do you test more R&D tax relief reports than there are grains of sand on Earth?

I don’t know about you, but it’s not often I get to dust off the theory I learned at university and apply it in real life. Recently, however, I had one of those oddly satisfying days when Computing Science gets dragged out of the cupboard and put to work. It started with a conversation with our developers about testing – specifically, what we should be testing and how to go about it.

By way of context, our software helps companies prepare claims for R&D tax relief, and one of its big strengths is that there is no free text entry – all inputs are multiple choice to make it as easy as possible for the user and their advisor. From those selections, the software automatically generates reports in natural, fluent English for customers to submit to HMRC. It’s beautifully simple to use, but the issue at hand was testing whether each combination of inputs yielded an acceptable report. To answer that, the first question we had to ask was ‘How many unique R&D reports can be generated by our app?’

Mmm, like, a lot..?

And this is where maths comes to the rescue! (I know, I don’t get to shout that nearly enough these days…)

Let’s take a question that presents the user with 10 different types of R&D activity and asks them to check off the 5 they’ve done. Mathematically, the number of different ways you can do this is expressed as C(n,r), where n is the number of options and r is how many you can pick. The formula for C(10,5) is:

10! / ( 5! x 5! )  where 10! = 10 x 9 x 8 x 7…and so on.

This is referred to by mathsy people as ’10 choose 5’, or ‘how many ways can I pick 5 things from a set of 10’, and the answer in this case is 252. That would be a pain to test manually, but I guess it could be done within a day or so. However, the problem gets much, much worse when you start to consider multiple questions in combination.

Let’s say our next question contained 45 possible options and you again had to choose 5. This gives you another C(45,5) options, or 1,221,759. Uh oh. Worse, the number of possible outputs by combining these two questions is 307,883,268. Even if we were testing 10,000 combinations a second, it would still take more than 8 hours to test all the permutations!

At this point I knew that the problem was really big, but I couldn’t stop there – out of curiosity, I wanted to know just how big. So, on the back of a (very large) envelope I worked out that for the 50 or questions we use to prepare a claim, our software could generate around 4.25 x 10^35 different R&D reports. The exponent form doesn’t really do it justice – writing it out in full is 425,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000, a number so magnificently big I don’t even have a proper name for it. It’s far bigger than the number of grains of sand on Earth (around 7.5 x 10^18, apparently).

Anyway, why is this relevant? Well, while big numbers are inherently cool (ok, to somepeople, I admit), it’s because the solution – the application of clever techniques to drastically reduce the problem space so that it can be robustly tested – is evidence of the thought, care and attention to detail that’s going into getting the WhisperClaims software platform right. After all, when we’re supplying thousands of software-generated-and-tested R&D reports for accountants and R&D tax specialists across the country, and doing so in a completely automated way, there has to be some pretty slick maths and Computer Science underneath all that nice, colourful UI/UX.

So when you generate your next WhisperClaims R&D report, please take a moment to consider that it is one of 4.25 billionty squillion, and just like you, it’s pretty special 🙂

The costs of producing a R&D tax relief claim – and why you might be too small

As a former founder of an established R&D tax relief consultancy, I’m perhaps more familiar than most with the costs of preparing a claim for R&D tax relief. Actually, since “preparing a claim” can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people, I should say that these costs were just the ones I had to consider – clearly there are lots of ways to skin a cat. (Please don’t skin any cats.)

The first issue, as with many companies, was finding good staff. Finding someone with good academic qualifications, industry experience and strong communication skills could easily set you back £45k, with employment taxes and pension costs taking that closer to £50k. Once you add in the costs of recruitment, providing that person with IT equipment, an office to work in and after allocating a share of the sales and marketing cost, you’re probably at around £75k, easily. Next up to consider is training – while your shiny new employee is getting up to speed, you’re probably not going to see much of a return on your investment. So, let’s throw another £25k into the pot for that, taking us to a nice, even £100k.

Next let’s consider the costs of engaging with clients (that’s clients, people who’ve signed with you, not prospects – let’s ignore for now the steadily rising cost of acquiring new R&D clients in an ever more competitive landscape). As a former consultant, I was all too aware that my clients were busy people and that their R&D tax relief claim was rarely a priority…until just before the deadline, when often it became their top priority. Mostly, however, getting and holding the attention of busy stakeholders was difficult, which meant that claims could take weeks – or more often months – to prepare and get approved. Time is money, as they say, and time spent waiting was money wasted.

The third big expense to consider was the opportunity cost of doing business with a particular client and working on a particular claim. If we accepted a company and their claim was small, our fees were smaller than if we’d spent our time working for another company with a larger claim. That means that consultants, at least those working on a contingent basis, tend to screen their clients for potential claim size before offering them a contract. And guess what, that screening takes judgement, a risk assessment and more communication with the prospect – all of which burns yet more money, I mean, time.

All of this means that there’s a natural ceiling on the number of claims that a consultancy company can prepare (they only have so much time), and a lower threshold on the size of claims that they’re prepared to take on (with high costs to cover, they’re judging you against what they might get elsewhere). This means that if you don’t have a particularly large company, or are deemed to have a ‘complex’ claim (perhaps involving grants, intricate corporate structure or are backed by a number of different investors), you might find that it’s hard to get help on a contingent basis – you’re just considered to be too much of a risk.

Now, if you’re an accountant who prepares claims, or a specialist R&D tax credit consultant, you might be nodding along ruefully at this point and wishing there was a better way. And yes, I’d agree, all the characteristics of traditional R&D consultancy mean that a large part of the market is currently being under-serviced, with lots of potentially valuable innovation going unrewarded in UK SMEs.

So why don’t we do something about that, together? With your clients, your brand and our technology? Why don’t we help more companies make more claims, support more UK innovation, help you get more clients and reduce your costs of delivery in the process? After all, wouldn’t it be nice to never have to tell someone that they’re too small again?

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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