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Helping your client understand eligibility

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The most important aspect of your role as an R&D tax advisor is making sure that your client understands the rules around eligibility well enough to make informed judgements about the eligibility of their projects. We see that the scariest and hardest enquiries to defend are always the ones where the claimant hasn’t understood the rules and has relied entirely on the advice of their (sometimes not entirely above-board) advisor. These days HMRC ask to talk to the claimant as a matter of course, and where the claimant hasn’t understood what has been claimed for and why, there’s no way to mount a successful defence.

“But I’m the advisor! Why do they need to understand the guidance?”

It’s true that, as an R&D advisor, you need a thorough and comprehensive understanding of HMRC’s guidance – there’s no way to be an effective advisor without this. We’d always recommend making sure that you know as much about the guidance and how it should be applied as possible. That’s we have built the WhisperClaims app in such a way that it takes you, and your client, through a structured and repeatable process on every claim to make sure you have explored every aspect of eligibility – we even provide direct links to HMRC’s guidance on every question throughout the process so that you can remind yourself of the intricacies of the scheme whenever you need to.

However, no matter what your background is, you will never know more about your client’s projects than they do – they are, after all, the competent professionals! 

The most robust claims we see come from advisors taking a collaborative approach – explaining the eligibility to their client, asking the client to reflect on which of their projects might fit those guidelines, and then asking the right questions about each project to establish whether it is eligible. 

You’re able to do this using WhisperClaims in two ways – many of the claims put together on the app are done simply sharing screens over Zoom (other platforms are available!) and working through the process together. But we also have the ability to invite a “collaborator” (your client) to the app so that they can complete chunks of the process themselves, and you can review it with them later. Either way, you’re in control but you are getting the best out of the client interaction  – and you’re able to do it quickly.

But it’s so complex! How can I explain it all? 

You don’t have to! There’s no need for your client to understand, for example, every little nuance of the rules of subcontractors, or the intricacies of how to claim for intangible assets – that’s where your knowledge and experience is invaluable.  What your client needs to understand are the very fundamentals of the scheme:

  • What is an advance?
  • What is meant by an area of science or technology?
  • What’s a technological uncertainty?
  • What does HMRC mean by a project?
  • What is a competent professional?

If your client understands these five key things, they should be able to work with you to assess their own projects, and highlight to you which should be included, and which are trivial and can be excluded.

And rest assured that if you are ever in a situation where either you or the client are struggling to understand a particular nuance of the scheme, and can’t find the help you need in our app, you can reach out to us or our community – we have live chat, phone help and a for-subscribers Facebook user group all designed specifically for this purpose.

What’s the best way to explain it all?

There’s no right or wrong way to explain the rules to your client. Some advisors like to use PowerPoint presentations, some have diagrams, and some just like to talk it through at the beginning of every meeting. Most of our users let the app do the hard work – our structured process will force you and the client to think clearly about how you stack up against the guidance. The important thing is that you’re comfortable with how you choose to explain it, and it’s easy for the client to grasp.

One thing we do recommend is working with the client to establish ‘strawman’ projects. Asking the client to describe a technical project that was easy to complete, and therefore ineligible, and then contrasting that with another of their technical projects, this time with loads of technical uncertainty, is a great way to give them reference points against which to compare the remaining projects. 

Doesn’t this mean they’ll do it themselves in future?

The most likely outcome of educating your clients well is that they’ll be better prepared the next time you come to do a claim with them – an educated client is always easier to work with. In addition, their claims will be more robust and more easily defensible in the event of an enquiry, making your job easier all round!

And at the end of the process, the WhisperClaims app writes the report for you! Our automated report writing feature is unique in the market and means that all of our users have that huge “when am I going to write all that up” headache removed completely!

How to write an R&D tax relief technical narrative

With HMRC’s new mandatory requirement for project descriptions on all submissions, we wanted to share our experiences to help others to write their best possible technical narratives.

Available to download here.

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