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Limited companies involved in research and development (R&D) activities may be able to claim different types of tax relief against their Corporation Tax bill.

Who can claim R&D tax relief?

You may be able to claim tax relief against your bill for Corporation Tax if your company spends money on research and development, such as creating new products, services, or processes – or enhancing existing ones.

The great thing about R&D tax relief is that any UK company of any size can claim. It doesn’t even matter if the R&D project itself ultimately failed in its objectives, or if the company makes a loss. The main thing is that qualifying R&D work was undertaken, and the business is a limited company registered for Corporation Tax.

What R&D costs can I claim for?

The scope of eligible projects and costs is huge, spanning just about every industry. The key thing here is that your innovation must have involved some kind of scientific or technical uncertainty. It should also benefit the wider field in which your company operates, not just your company itself.

Each R&D project is unique and so are the eligible costs. As a guide these are the most common ones for inclusion:

  • Staff wages, overtime payments and salaries
  • Employer NIC contributions
  • Costs relating to subcontractors, freelancers and externally provided workers (EPWs)
  • Payments made to volunteers for any clinical trials
  • Certain types of software (which were specifically designed for the R&D project itself, not bought ‘off the shelf’)
  • Consumables (including heat, electricity, and water)

Bear in mind this isn’t an exhaustive list, which is why it’s well worth seeking advice if you’re thinking of starting an R&D tax relief claim. Innovative companies working in creative industries may also be able to claim creative sector tax reliefs too.

Can I still claim R&D tax relief if the project is unsuccessful?

Yes, even if the project ultimately fails, you can still claim tax relief on behalf of the research and innovation that went into the developmental process.

R&D relief for overseas EPW and subcontractor costs removed

In most cases you won’t be able to claim for R&D work carried out after 1st April 2024 by externally provided workers or subcontractors who are located abroad.

There are some exceptions though, and you may still be able to claim tax relief if the work is classed as ‘qualifying overseas expenditure’ (QOE). For example, if it was unreasonable for the R&D work to be undertaken in the UK. HMRC use the example of placing sensors on a volcano.

How does R&D tax relief work?

A successful R&D claim for profit-making companies will be applied as a credit against your bill for Corporation Tax, reducing the amount you need to pay. Loss-making organisations can receive cash payments instead.
 

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Which R&D scheme should I use?

The R&D tax relief system consists of different schemes depending on the accounting period you’re claiming relief for, and the size of your business.

Claiming R&D tax relief for accounting periods starting before 1st April 2024

To claim R&D tax relief for accounting periods starting before April 2024 you’ll need to apply to the correct scheme depending on your eligibility:
 

R&D Scheme Qualifying Criteria
SME scheme
  • Employs fewer than 500 people
  • Has a balance sheet of under €86 million, or an annual turnover below €100 million
Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) scheme You’ll need to apply using RDEC if your company exceeds these figures, or has received certain notified state aid.

 
The SME scheme is aimed at smaller businesses whose limited funding might mean they need a bit more financial support to carry out R&D activities. As such, the maximum rate of relief available through the SME R&D scheme is higher than what’s available through the RDEC scheme, which is aimed at larger, more established companies.

The other crucial difference between the two is the way in which they’re accounted for in your bookkeeping.

 
The RDEC scheme is what’s known as an ‘above the line’ scheme, so any tax credit you receive will be shown as a source of income and therefore subject to Corporation Tax. The SME scheme is ‘below the line’ so it isn’t.

How much can I claim through the SME R&D scheme?

The SME scheme allows companies to claim tax relief on R&D using an ‘additional deduction rate’. This means you can:

  • Deduct 100% of the amount which you spend on R&D (like you would when claiming allowable expenses)
  • And then deduct a percentage of that amount again

For example, the additional deduction rate for accounting periods starting from 1st April 2023 is 86%. A company with spending which qualifies for R&D relief can deduct 100% of the amount from its profits, and then deduct a further 86% of the amount, to make a total 186% deduction.
 

When the R&D expenditure occurred The additional deduction rate
Before 1st April 2023 130%
1st April 2023 – 31st March 2024 86%

 
You might also be able to claim a payable tax credit alongside this relief if your company makes a loss:

  • 10% of the surrenderable loss
  • 14.5% of the surrenderable loss if the company is considered research intensive

Your company may be considered ‘research intensive’ if it’s an SME, and the amount it spends on R&D activities accounts for a sizeable chunk of its total spending.

To qualify, the percentage of your spending which relates to R&D must be 40% or more for claims in accounting periods up until 31st March 2024

How much you can claim through the RDEC scheme

Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) is a tax credit applied against the company’s tax bill. The expenditure credit rate is worked out as a percentage of what you spend on R&D.
 

When the R&D expenditure occurred The percentage of your R&D spending you can receive as a credit against your tax bill
1st April 2015 – 31st December 2017 11%
1st January 2018 – 31st March 2020 12%
1st April 2020 – 31st March 2023 13%
1st April 2023 onwards 20%

 
For example, if you spend £100,000 on R&D between 1st April 2023 and 31st March 2024, you can claim 20% of it back – which is £20,000.

Just remember; RDEC is an above-the-line credit. ‘Above the line’ means the credit is accounted for in your bookkeeping as if it were income – a bit like a grant – so you’ll pay Corporation Tax on it.

Claiming R&D tax relief for accounting periods starting after 1st April 2024

There is a single merged R&D expenditure credit (RDEC) scheme for all companies claiming tax relief for accounting periods starting 1st April 2024 onwards. Companies may be entitled to credit at a rate of 20%, or at a rate of 19% if they make a loss or their profits are less than £50,000.

Companies which make a loss might also be able to claim Enhanced Research and Development intensive support.

Enhanced R&D intensive support for small businesses

This enhanced support is only available to companies which qualify as SMEs, make a loss, and are considered to be ‘research intensive’ because 30% or more of their spending relates to R&D.

There is a grace period allowing companies to continue receiving relief for one year if their R&D spending dips below the 30% threshold.

What can I get for enhanced R&D intensive support?

Enhanced R&D intensive support is pretty much what was available to SMEs before the R&D schemes were merged. Companies which qualify for enhanced support claims in accounting periods beginning on or after 1st April 2024 can:

  • Deduct an extra 86% of their qualifying costs (on top of the normal 100% you can already claim as an expense, giving you a total deduction of 186%)
  • Claim a payable tax credit worth up to 14.5% of the surrenderable loss

Is there a deadline for claiming R&D tax credit relief?

You can claim tax relief on R&D up to two years after the end of the accounting period the claim relates to.

For example, the deadline to submit an R&D tax credit claim for an accounting period which runs from 1st April 2023 to 31st March 2024 is midnight on 31st March 2026.

How do I apply for R&D tax relief?

The process for making a claim for R&D tax relief is different for accounting periods starting on or after 1st April 2023.

You may need to submit a Claim Notification form for your R&D claim to be valid.

 
The Claim Notification for R&D is basically a pre-notification which tells HMRC you plan to make a claim for R&D for that accounting period. If this is your first-time claiming R&D relief, or if you haven’t submitted a claim for R&D in the last three years, you’ll need to use a digital service to pre-notify HMRC that you plan to claim.

The Claim Notification can be sent from the first day of the accounting period it relates to, but the deadline to submit is 6 months from the end of the period. You can enter the details of any qualifying R&D expenditure into your Company Tax Return.

If you operate multiple companies, or you’re working with various partners, it’s essential the UTR number and accounting period details on your Claim Notification are the same as on your CT600 Company Tax Return.

What you need for an R&D claim

The Corporate Intangibles Research and Development (CIRD) Manual is a good place to start, because it sets out the general rules and eligibility around R&D tax relief.

Explaining the project

Your claim must describe the project and its associated costs in a way which makes it clear why you’re claiming R&D relief. Describe why the specific challenges faced in a particular field led to the work being undertaken, and how the project attempted to overcome these challenges and uncertainties.

You must also include the contact details of the main person leading the R&D project, along with the details of any professional firms or individuals who helped you prepare your R&D claim.
You’ll also need to detail how many externally provided workers were involved in the R&D project, together with their PAYE scheme reference numbers.

From April 2023 onwards it’s a requirement to provide a complete breakdown of eligible project costs under the following headings:

  • Cloud computing services and data licences
  • Contributions to independent R&D
  • Correct SIC code
  • What costs are the result of eligible indirect activities
  • How many projects make up your claim

 
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About The Author

Elizabeth Hughes

A content writer specialising in business, finance, software, and beyond. I'm a wordsmith with a penchant for puns and making complex subjects accessible. Learn more about Elizabeth.

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