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How to find a good R&D consultant

22nd Sep 2022
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If you’d prefer to outsource your R&D work to a specialist how do you choose a good one?

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 After all, there are so many R&D consultants on the market, and almost all of them look and sound the same. So how do you sift the honest and competent advisors from the many shysters out there?

Here are five good questions to ask, and one not to, when selecting an R&D specialist to partner with.

1.    What’s your success rate?

If they respond with a confident ‘100%’, that’s a red flag. Why? Because claim reductions are completely routine in enquiries. If they’ve never had a claim reduced, that suggests they’ve never had an enquiry – and if they’ve never dealt with an enquiry, they’re not particularly experienced advisors. 

Pro tip: Ask them to be more specific – 100% of what? Do they mean that 100% of their claims were processed without amendment, or that 100% of their claims were at least partially defensible?

2. How many clients do you turn down?

If the answer is essentially ‘We find eligibility in almost every company we work with!’, that’s a concern. A good advisor should have a clear set of decision factors that help them judge when a client has insufficient eligibility to merit a claim. These factors will vary between providers, of course, but the important point is that they have at least some criteria on which they turn down companies. 

Pro tip: If they only turn down business because it’s too small (in other words, because their fees would be too small), that suggests that they don’t really care about whether the client’s work qualifies – they just want the money. Keep looking. 

3.    What do you think about HMRC’s approach to subcontracting?

This is a great question to get at how current and experienced the consultant is. After losing the Quinn (London) Tribunal, HMRC clarified its position on SMEs claiming R&D tax relief. This caused quite some consternation in the R&D industry, as it means SMEs can’t claim for work that’s part of fulfilling a contract with a client. A good advisor who’s up to date will know exactly what you’re referring to and be able to give some informed and considered opinions. A poor advisor won’t know what you’re talking about, and that should be easy to detect. If they bluster or obfuscate, they probably don’t have a particularly sophisticated understanding of the R&D scheme.

4.    Do you sit on HMRC’s Consultative Committee?

This question is designed to catch out an advisor who’s trying to mislead you on purpose. As a good advisor will tell you, the Consultative Committee is now called the Communication Forum. This happened because certain advisors were leaning on the name of the Committee to imply that they were involved in HMRC’s decision-making. The reality is that the Communication Forum is a one-way transmission of information from HMRC to a large number of advisors. Anyone can request to attend, and short of asking awkward questions, there’s no way to influence HMRC’s position. A poor advisor will say ‘Yes, we do sit on the Committee’ and hope that you’re impressed.

5.    How do you ensure a consistent level of knowledge across your team?

A good advisor will talk about how they have systems and processes in place to ensure that their team are up to date on changes to the scheme, and that their work is peer-reviewed and quality checked. They might also be members of The R&D Community and taking specialist CPD training to develop their knowledge and support their teams (to see if they are, check out our Members Directory).

What about "How many claims has your company prepared?"

Here’s the one question you shouldn’t use to weigh up the quality of the advisor in front of you. A dishonest advisor will just lie and claim to have prepared thousands, and there’s no way to verify if that’s true. 

So there you are – five questions you can use to suss out whether the R&D consultant you’re talking to actually knows their stuff. We hope this is useful in finding someone who’s honest, reliable and has your clients’ interests at heart. 

If you’re really struggling to find one, or you’ve weighed up the options and would rather invest in your own team instead, have a read of our Guide to Running an In-House R&D Service. It will give you all the advice you need to create an effective service plan, including worksheets and resources to help.