Identifying eligible clients in Gardening and Landscaping

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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 this 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 gardening and landscaping. 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

As with our previous subjects, it’s worth taking the time to first think about the types of gardening and landscaping companies that don’t do any eligible work. This is a very established and non-technical sector, so the majority of these companies are unlikely to have much eligibility.

The first type of company to strike off your list of possible targets is small organisations that focus on domestic garden work. It’s vanishingly unlikely that a company that focusses on designing and maintaining domestic gardens would carry out any eligible R&D – there’s just no scope for that kind of technical or scientific work in their normal business.

Even moving up the scale, larger companies that perhaps focus on commercial and public landscaping are highly unlikely to carry out eligible projects if they’re concerned entirely with creating purely aesthetic effects. This type of worked is specifically excluded in the R&D tax relief guidance, so no matter how innovative the design was, it’s unlikely that a company would be able to make a claim.

Finally, companies that seem to be doing innovative projects and producing novel outputs, for example improving impoverished inner-city soils and creating urban gardens, may not be able to claim R&D tax relief if their project could be completed using off-the-shelf products for their intended purpose.

Ok, so what should I look for?

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

Soil remediation

Soil remediation is, in general, a fairly established process, so where remediation projects can be carried out using established products and processes, there’s unlikely to be any scope for eligibility. However, if a company is required to develop new methods or treatments, for example due to novel types of contamination or strict environmental controls at the site, they may be able to make a claim. The work would have to require an advance to be made in chemistry or biotechnology, and involve technological uncertainties, but where these criteria are met it’s likely the company would be able to claim.

Environmental improvements

Within the landscaping industry there is a pressure to reduce the environmental impact of works carried out, and larger companies often carry out projects to reduce this. For example, developing new composting techniques to reduce the volume of methane release during the breakdown of organic matter might have elements of eligibility. As above, the key is that the projects must require making an advance in science or technology.

Development of plant cultivars

Where a gardening or landscaping company produces plants at a large scale, they often also carry out projects to develop new plant cultivars, for example hardier or more pest-resistant varieties of common garden plants. Where this cultivar development is carried out in a systematic fashion with an understanding of the underlying genetics, and the company are required to make advances in, for example, biotechnology, plant science or genetics, it’s likely that they will be able to claim R&D tax relief.

Development of new pesticides and other chemical treatments

Again, large-scale gardening or landscaping companies may be required to formulate their own pesticides or other chemical treatments to fulfil their requirements. Where these projects are carried out by competent professionals in the area of chemistry, there’s a good chance that the projects will be eligible for R&D tax relief.

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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