As tech businesses start to look ahead to life after Covid-19 and consider what the ‘new normal’ will look like, how to make up for any lost R&D time will be at the top of many agendas.

Access to the ‘right’ funding will continue to be vital and the pros and cons of equity funding versus non-dilution funding will need to be carefully considered.

Whatever route or routes are chosen, they all come at a cost, both in time and money.

So, never more so than in today’s rapidly changing landscape, it is essential that companies don’t lose sight of the importance of optimising their R&D tax credit claims.

And, in order to do this they need to be fully aware of HMRC’s recent tightening up of the rules relating to software claims.

In the last couple of years, there have been a number of changes to the R&D tax credit scheme, the most significant of which was a document issued in October 2018 called CIRD81980 - Case Studies demonstrating R&D tax credit claims for software projects. 

The primary goal of the document is to define boundaries, particularly those detailing what qualifies for R&D, and what doesn’t.

HMRC defines R&D as taking place “when a project seeks to achieve an advance in overall knowledge of capability in a field of science or technology.” They later go on to say that this focuses on “projects and activities that help resolve scientific or technological uncertainties.”

The guide defines an R&D project as starting when it begins work to resolve uncertainty, and ends when that uncertainty is either resolved, or found to be unresolvable. It is these boundaries that are often the hardest part of any software claim to explain properly to HMRC in a technical narrative.

The advance needs to be an advance in overall knowledge in software technology, not merely an advance in a company’s own knowledge alone, except only when the details of such advance are not publically available due to the intellectual property being owned by another company. 

As it stands, it means that credits cannot be applied to routine analysis or work that has commercial considerations. However, many software businesses are finding that the number of challenges issued by HMRC are increasing, making the counseling of external R&D tax credit experts all the more important.   

WHAT KIND OF PROJECTS QUALIFY? 

Some common examples of software projects that might qualify for R&D tax relief include: 

  • Integration of software and hardware platforms.

  • Software that enables new computer hardware.

  • New methods of capturing, utilising or communicating data.

  • Improvements to programming language.

  • Methods that extend the functionality of software or an operating system.

  • Software development tools.

DIFFICULTIES SURROUNDING R&D CLAIMS 

Many companies have found it difficult to determine when R&D begins and when it finishes. There is also confusion when it comes to differentiating between commercial projects and R&D and differentiating between which parts of a software project are claimable and which parts are not. 

In order to combat these issues, HMRC published CIRD81980, containing a number of case studies that showed where the boundaries in software claims are, what costs can be claimed and what costs can’t.  

All these influences have led to R&D software claims becoming rather nuanced processes. Here’s an example of what we mean: 

It may be obvious that marketing costs or implementation bug-fixing costs are not claimable, but there is a category of costs called qualified indirect activity that can be included in a claim.

Say you’re building a test harness for a new piece of software algorithm: the algorithm itself may have been an attempt to solve technical uncertainty, but it can’t be tested without the test harness. Hence the harness creation costs will qualify as indirect activity whereas the algorithm qualifies directly, meaning that although they’re both working towards solving technical uncertainty, they satisfy different criteria in different ways. 

SOLUTION

It’s clear from the examples contained within CIRD81980 that documenting and qualifying a software claim is by no means a quick and simple process. Getting the maximum amount out of a claim while satisfying all of the required criteria needs experienced and skilled specialists. 

HMRC challenges can be a difficult and lengthy process; introducing a competent professional to carry out the exchange can therefore help to navigate the complexities of making a claim and save a considerable amount of time. 

MSC R&D are fortunate enough to have a low challenge rate with the claims we work on. This is due to the fact that we employ many former HMRC employees and specialists who understand how to properly interact with and satisfy one of the largest financial institutions in the country. 

If you want to be certain that you’re claiming for all the eligible parts of your R&D spend and that you’re staying within the boundaries outlined by HMRC, talk to us on 0114 230 8401 or email businessdevelopment@mscbdg.co.uk

We also provide a full range of R&D funding solutions, so the understanding we gain of a client's business during a R&D Tax Credit claim can be put to productive use in helping them access the full level of R&D funding they require.

Contact us on 0114 230 8401 or get in touch here to discuss your requirements.

If you have questions specifically relating to the Covid-19 situation, please call our helpline on 0114 263 2632.