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Are you a responsible R&D adviser?

12th Jan 2024
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R&D tax relief training and support

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As HMRC has continued their more aggressive approach to policing the R&D scheme, it's more important than ever to be (and be recognised as) a responsible R&D adviser.

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Fast-paced, constantly evolving, and increasingly complex - welcome to the world of R&D tax relief in 2024. A world that’s shaped not only by HMRC's more aggressive approach to policing the R&D Scheme, but also by the level of intricacy demanded by claim submission.

Despite the difficulties faced by R&D advisers and their clients, the fact remains that the tax relief is available for eligible parties. But, with company directors on the hook for any penalties that might occur (and HMRC more likely to hand them out than ever before), some businesses are wary of claiming relief. 

While the risk of penalties and enquiries is real, it can be mitigated by the aid of someone who knows the ins and outs of the scheme and is dedicated to ethical practice: people that we like to call 'responsible advisers'. So, if you run an R&D service and want to send the right message to potential clients, you’ll need to know what a responsible adviser actually looks like in practice. 

What does it mean to be a responsible R&D Adviser?

Let’s define a ‘responsible adviser’ as someone who tries to do right by those employing their services. In the context of the current landscape of R&D tax relief, that involves specific considerations that signal to potential prospects (and HMRC!) that you’re doing everything you can to prepare strong claims and manage client expectations. These considerations fall into two main areas: marketing your R&D service and knowledge of the R&D tax relief scheme.

Marketing your R&D service

You might think that how your market your business has little effect on whether you’re a responsible adviser. After all, your first job is just to get people through the door! In practice, the messages that you send out to the world dramatically impacts the type prospects that you attract. With HMRC clamping down on R&D tax relief and narrowing the scope of eligibility criteria, you won’t want to waste time on projects that won’t hold up to their scrutiny. By accurately representing the current demands of the scheme, you’re more likely to attract clients with eligible projects and keep their expectations about the scheme grounded in reality.

If that’s not enough, HMRC actively considers your marketing when risk assessing claims. If you employ messages that contradict current guidance or the realities of submitting claims, that can make an enquiry more likely. You probably don’t need to start from the ground-up, but it’s a good idea to review your marketing materials for any messages that might give people the wrong idea. Especially considering the regular changes to the scheme, some messages might simply be outdated. If you’re not sure where to start, we have resources that can help you identify and rectify misleading marketing messages.

Knowledge of the R&D tax relief scheme

Even if you’re confident in your abilities and knowledge as an R&D adviser, HMRC has increased the likelihood of compliance checks across the board. Now, even the most solidly constructed claims might come under scrutiny and need to be defended. A sound understanding of current guidance and best practice has become invaluable, allowing you to effectively respond to any question thrown at you by HMRC during the course of an enquiry. Even if the core aspects of the scheme haven’t changed, much of what HMRC now takes issue with are aspects that have undergone a series of changes (and which continue to change). 

As the need to involve clients in the claims process has increased, a strong understanding of the scheme yields compounding benefits. The ability to efficiently and effectively respond to your client’s concerns or questions builds trust, and it becomes easier to get the information that you need to prepare the claim without repeated back-and-forth. Plus, in an industry where a lot of your business can come from referrals, positive client relationships become even more valuable. Still, we appreciate that it’s tough to stay current, especially when HMRC’s communication about guidance is fragmented, inconsistent, and sometimes error-prone. But, that’s where industry-specific newsletters and blogs can save you a lot of leg-work.

And if you’re looking for the next level of support for your R&D service, that’s exactly what we provide at The R&D Community. We support accountants and consultants across the UK with R&D-specific training courses, an R&D Helpline for dealing with difficult questions, and even Enquiry Support if it comes to it. Plus you get access to a vibrant group of peers who are constantly sharing inside information about R&D in our customer forum.