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HMRC are watching how you win R&D tax relief clients

23rd Feb 2024
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R&D tax relief training and support

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The landscape of R&D tax relief is continually evolving, posing challenges and opportunities for claimants and HMRC alike.

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A lot of attention is given to legislation and policy changes, but marketing is underrepresented by comparison. Recent shifts in HMRC's approach to compliance have highlighted the importance of ensuring your marketing practices are up to scratch.

The difficulties of marketing an R&D service

Let’s take a look at the marketing challenges faced by R&D advisors and HMRC. On the side of the advisor, you want to attract prospects and generate more business. Unfortunately some irresponsible advisors have done so by using misleading messages, talking about “HMRC approved processes” and “millions of pounds owed to SMEs”. While these messages are often effective, they’re also not true. Still, some companies are always happy to hear them. That is, until they get slapped with an enquiry or penalty – a prospect that is much more likely to happen considering HMRC’s current approach to compliance.  

That’s where HMRC starts to take a deeper interest in your marketing messages. If you misrepresent the realities and requirements of the scheme in your marketing, that can influence how HMRC views your claims. They can and do look at your website during an R&D enquiry, and if they see you’re talking about “free money” and “100% success”, that could prompt them to target your other claims for investigation. 

The R&D scheme has changed a lot since it was created, so outdated information on your website can paint you in a bad light. While in practice you may be an upstanding, responsible advisor, your website may not be doing you justice.

The best way to update your R&D service’s website

To try and combat these challenges, we've worked closely with our members to develop the Good Practice Marketing Standard (GPMS). It aims to help advisors identify problematic messages and provide some solutions and general guidance about responsible marketing.  

Part of our collaboration with our members involved a voluntary review of their marketing messages.

Websites develop over time and some historic content might not still be considered ethical. To have someone go through it all and review it, even if they don’t find anything, is very useful. – Paul Rosser, Member of The R&D Community 

Using the checklist included in the GPMS, we provided our members with detailed feedback about how to make sure their websites followed best practice. This gave our members a helpful external perspective on how their sites were likely to be perceived by potential clients, HMRC, and even other advisor.

Updating your website to remove outdated phrases and add more modern and accurate statements really helps send the right message to HMRC, and better-informed prospects also yield stronger claims. It’s really a win-win.

Successfully passing the website assessment earns members a corresponding badge on their members' directory entry. This highlights the companies who are doing everything they can to adopt ethical marketing practices and adhere to industry standards. It’s not about bragging rights; it’s about R&D advisors coming together around shared standards that benefit the industry. A third-party stamp of approval can go a long way in instilling confidence in your services.

We usually conduct an assessment after one of our members has completed the related course on marketing your R&D service. It provides a more in-depth look at how different messages impact client expectations, as well as those that are most likely to draw HMRC’s attention. 

Ultimately, how you market your service is an important part of establishing yourself as a credible R&D advisor. It goes hand-in-hand with preparing strong claims, and going about it the right way will set yourself up for success further down the line. That principle holds true for other aspects of your work; in the long run, working on your credibility protects your brand and makes for a more sustainable business.