New consultation on R&D tax relief: this looks to be far-reaching

This post is part of our Entrepreneurial team’s regular series of blogs.

The R&D consultation announced at the budget is far-reaching and goes much further than last year’s, in which the Government consulted on bringing data and cloud computing costs into the scope of the reliefs as well as new SME anti-avoidance measures.

This time, the consultation will look to explore further with stakeholders the nature of private-sector R&D investment in the UK and nothing seems to be off the table: it will look at definitions, eligibility and scope of the reliefs to ensure they are up-to date and competitive, while providing targeted support to maximise the beneficial R&D activity for the UK economy.

There is an emphasis into how well the reliefs are operating for businesses and HMRC, and whether this could be improved points to a positive change in the legislation. “RDEC for all” has been suggested again, potentially with a higher rate for SME’S to simplify the process.

Over-claiming is again on the Government’s radar, however, as there have been growing concerns over the past few years that this system does not provide adequate controls over the allocation of increasingly large sums of tax reliefs being given for R&D. Noting that the current 28 day turnaround gives HMRC very little time to consider every case in detail, the Government is looking to explore how the integrity of the relief process can be enhanced. This, along with the increase in the number of HMRC Inspectors being hired – as well as the HMRC taskforce announced today – points to a clampdown on fraudulent claims.

The good news is that the Government has recognised the case for widening the scope of expenditure which attracts relief, such as plant and machinery costs, which has again been brought up as an area to improve. While covered by the Research & Development Allowance, the tax benefit can be negligible in some instances, particularly when the costs fall under the scope of other available Capital Allowances. Hopefully the consultation will result in the revisit of this relief.

Overall, the announced consultation is positive news and I look forward to feeding back into this. Genuinely innovative companies shouldn’t be worried about change as the ultimate goal is to update and target the reliefs, whilst helping attract and retain key businesses in the UK.