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What does an effective R&D eligibility screening conversation look like?

15th Jun 2022
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R&D tax relief training and support

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Despite what you might hear from certain R&D consultants, not every limited company qualifies for R&D tax relief. In fact, far from it.

A woman holding up a magnifying glass

Separating companies into those that are likely to have an R&D claim, and those who are not, is a process many R&D consultants refer to as ‘screening’. It’s especially useful if you’re charging a contingent fee because it saves you from signing up ineligible companies and burning time for no reward.

As an accountant, your goal for the conversation is usually to establish, quickly and in broad strokes, which projects will be covered by the claim. This usually follows a shorter conversation on whether an R&D claim is appropriate for your client.

This initial conversation is actually one of the most important parts of the R&D claim process. Done well, it sets the tone for what’s to follow and leaves the client crystal clear about HMRC’s eligibility criteria and what they can and cannot claim for.

Occasionally accountants in our R&D training academy say they’re not certain how these conversations should go – how can they tell if they’ve got a good outcome?

When R&D eligibility conversations go well

You’ll know you’ve done a good job of your screening conversation when:

  • You feel confident that the client has grasped the key points of HMRC’s criteria
  • You feel comfortable that the client’s staff would present well, if asked to speak to HMRC in more detail about their work
  • The client has reflected on their activities and calibrated their understanding by asking for clarification on whether examples of their work would qualify
  • You’ve been able to give your client clear guidance on how HMRC would view the work they’ve described
  • You’ve been open with your client about what constitutes best practice in preparing a claim and working with HMRC.

Most importantly of all, you’ve done a great job of screening if during the meeting you’ve reached a clear and agreed position with the client about whether they qualify.

Get this meeting right and you’ll feel the satisfaction of having turned an unsure client into one who clearly understands their role, responsibilities and risk involved in making a claim. 

When R&D eligibility conversations go wrong

On the flip side, if you’ve not handled the screening conversation well, you’re more likely to feel:

  • Worried that the client has just nodded along without really listening to you or thinking critically about their projects
  • Uneasy about whether the client really understands the rules
  • Anxious about what would happen if HMRC dug under the surface of the claim
  • Frustrated that it’s still not really clear whether the client is eligible or not.

If this feels familiar, have a read of our recent article: 3 steps to effective eligibility screening conversations.