16 Jun 2023

What qualifies as research and development (R&D) for tax purposes?

Ian Davie
Senior Consultant

Research and Development (R&D) plays a critical role in driving innovation, fostering economic growth, and improving competitiveness. Recognising the significance of R&D, HMRC (His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs) provides incentives and credits to encourage businesses to invest in these activities, in the form of the SME and RDEC Schemes. However, understanding what qualifies as R&D for tax purposes can be complex. Here we’ll delve into the criteria that define R&D for tax purposes and shed light on the key considerations. 


Defining R&D for Tax Purposes: 

For tax purposes, R&D is characterised as a systematic and investigative activity aimed at acquiring new knowledge, developing new products, processes, services, or improving existing ones. It involves scientific or technological uncertainties and follows a systematic approach involving planning, experimentation, analysis, and evaluation.  

The primary objective is to create an advance in scientific or technological knowledge or capabilities within a specific field, with a practical application in mind. 


Scientific or Technological Uncertainty: 

At the heart of R&D lies scientific or technological uncertainty. This means that the knowledge or solution sought through the project is not readily available or easily deduced by a competent person. It involves pushing the boundaries of existing knowledge and addressing gaps or uncertainties in scientific or technological understanding. The presence of uncertainties differentiates R&D from routine or conventional activities. 


Competent Professional: 

R&D activities are characterised by their systematic nature. They are conducted in a structured manner, following established scientific principles and methodologies by a competent professional in their field. A competent professional will understand the baseline in current technology and develop a clear, well-defined plan to outline the objectives, methodologies, and expected outcomes. Experimentation is conducted, data is collected and analysed, and conclusions are drawn based on the results. This systematic approach ensures the rigour and validity of the R&D process. 


Advancement in Knowledge or Capability: 

One of the key goals of R&D is to create or seek to create an advance in scientific or technological knowledge or capabilities. This can be achieved by creating new products, processes, or services, or by improving existing ones. The focus is on innovation, pushing boundaries, and achieving breakthroughs that contribute to the growth and development of the respective field. R&D activities should aim to bring about a tangible impact, either by enhancing knowledge or by enabling practical applications. As R&D is risky, the project may wholly or partly fail in achieving an advance or the outcome sought, but this is still valid R&D. 


Practical Application: 

While R&D involves the pursuit of knowledge and innovation, it is crucial that the activities have a practical purpose. The outcomes of R&D should be economically or commercially beneficial. They should result in new or improved products, processes, or services that provide advantages to the business, such as increased efficiency, cost savings, or competitive advantages. The practical application ensures that R&D activities have tangible benefits beyond theoretical advancements. 


Consultation and Expertise: 

Given the complexity of determining what qualifies as R&D for tax purposes, it is advisable to seek professional advice from tax experts or consultants. They can provide guidance based on the specific tax legislation and guidelines from HMRC. HMRC has specific documentation and reporting requirements to substantiate R&D claims, and expert assistance can help ensure compliance while maximising the available tax incentives and credits. 

Understanding the criteria that define R&D for tax purposes is essential for businesses aiming to leverage tax incentives and credits. By meeting the requirements of scientific or technological uncertainty, following a systematic approach, advancing knowledge or capabilities, and demonstrating practical application, businesses can effectively identify and claim R&D activities for tax benefits. Embracing R&D as a strategic initiative can not only drive innovation but also unlock potential financial advantages through tax incentives, fostering a culture of continuous growth and development. 

Working closely with tax professionals can provide valuable insights and ensure compliance with relevant regulations. Embracing R&D as a strategic initiative can not only drive innovation but also unlock potential financial advantages through tax incentives, fostering a culture of continuous growth and development. 


Let the experts help 

Our TBAT R&D tax team brings an extensive wealth of experience and specialised knowledge to the table, dedicated to providing assistance and addressing any queries you may have. 


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