Innovation is at the heart of progress, and governments worldwide encourage businesses to invest in research and development (R&D) by offering tax incentives. In the UK, companies have the opportunity to claim tax relief for their R&D activities through government schemes administered by HMRC. These schemes are designed to foster innovation by supporting businesses that aim to overcome challenges and uncertainties in their products and processes. However, it’s essential to stay informed about the latest changes in R&D tax credits to maximize their benefits.
What Are R&D Tax Credits?
R&D tax credits are a means by which the UK government promotes innovation and supports businesses striving to improve or innovate their products, services, or processes. These tax credits allow companies to reduce their tax liabilities or even receive cash refunds, helping them reinvest in further research and development activities.
Historically, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) could claim back up to 33% of the amount spent on qualifying R&D activities. However, as of April 1, 2023, the landscape has changed. For loss-making companies, the maximum claim has been reduced to 18.6%, increasing to 27% if the company qualifies as R&D intensive, meaning that 40% or more of their total expenditure goes towards qualifying R&D.
Eligibility for R&D Tax Credits
To determine your eligibility for R&D tax credits, consider the following questions:
- Do you design and create new products?
- Are you actively seeking to improve processes, services, materials, or devices?
- Do you engage in prototype development or testing?
- Are you involved in software or IT solutions development?
- Do you employ staff with technical or scientific backgrounds?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be eligible for R&D tax credits. These credits can significantly benefit your business, so it’s essential to explore your eligibility further.
Limits on R&D Tax Credits
Starting from April 1, 2021, HMRC introduced a cap on the R&D tax credits for loss-making SMEs. The tax credit is now capped at £20,000 plus three times the total PAYE and NIC liability for the year. This cap ensures that the credits primarily benefit businesses with larger liabilities. Smaller companies with claims for less than £20,000 are unaffected by this cap.
2023 R&D Tax Credits Changes
The year 2023 marked significant changes in R&D tax credits, introduced in the Chancellor’s Spring Budget. These changes aim to enhance the effectiveness of R&D incentives and ensure that tax relief is offered for its intended purpose. Several key changes were implemented:
- New Relief Rates: The rates of tax relief for SMEs decreased, with profitable companies now eligible for an 86% uplift on qualifying expenditure, down from 130%. Loss-making SMEs can claim a 10% tax credit, reduced from 14.5%. Profitable companies using the RDEC scheme can now claim a 20% tax relief, up from 13%, while loss-making RDEC companies also receive a 20% tax credit.
- Extended Qualifying Expenditure: The scope of qualifying R&D expenditure was expanded to include the costs of creating, running, and maintaining machine learning. Pure mathematics is now recognized as allowable expenditure. Acquiring datasets for training or testing is also considered qualifying expenditure.
- New Notification Process: Businesses making their first R&D tax credit claim from April 1, 2023, onwards or those not claiming in the previous three accounting periods must notify HMRC of their intent to make a claim. This notification should be submitted within six months of the accounting period’s end.
- Additional Information Required: Starting from August 1, 2023, HMRC requires additional information to be included in R&D claims through an ‘Additional Form.’ This form standardizes information required for R&D claims and includes detailed expenditure breakdowns, project descriptions, and more.
- Geographic Restriction Delayed: Originally planned for April 1, 2023, the geographic restriction, where only R&D activity performed in the UK would qualify, has been postponed to April 1, 2024.
Why the Changes?
These changes serve several purposes:
- Combat Abuse and Improve Compliance: Stricter requirements and processes help tackle abuse and fraudulent claims while enhancing compliance.
- Address Low Productivity: Rebalancing rates between SMEs and larger corporations aims to address concerns about low productivity among SMEs and promote a more level playing field.
- Focus on Local Impact: Emphasizing UK-based R&D activity ensures that the maximum benefit from innovative developments is retained within the local economy.
In conclusion, understanding the changes in R&D tax credits is crucial for businesses aiming to leverage these incentives. While rates have evolved, R&D tax credits remain a valuable tool for fostering innovation and growth in the UK.