Blog: R&D Tax Talk – The stigma around UK businesses claiming tax relief

Date: January 10, 2021

Over the next few months we are showcasing some of our excellent team members here at Catax. 

To kick off the new year Joe Oldham, our Senior Specialist Tax Consultant, gives us a little insight into his world – discussing the stigma around UK businesses claiming tax relief and the related impacts during Brexit and a pandemic. 

It’s 05:30am and I’m sat in my lounge drinking my first coffee of the day while I start to plan out what the next ten or so working hours will look like. Today’s diary consists of client meetings in the morning and lunch, with the second half of the day filled with report writing – if I manage to complete two in that timeframe, it will be a very productive day!

My job used to take me all over the country, but now I traverse the length and breadth of the UK from my dining table via video conferencing software because of COVID-19. I meet a massively wide array of different and interesting individuals and this job provides me with a never-ending series of anecdotes and interesting stories when people ask me what I do for a living.

I bet you didn’t expect that from someone who works in tax, did you?

I specialise in the Research & Development Tax scheme, but I also keep an eye out for any opportunity to offer a client one of the other tax services that Catax provides. Considering the potential impacts of Brexit and COVID-19 in 2021 and subsequent years, I foresee that the UK will rely more heavily on incentives such as this to stimulate the embryonic new economy that will emerge out of these two landmark events. We live in strange and ever-changing times.

It still amazes me though, how often organisations are either unaware of or choose not to capitalise on this scheme. Admittedly, we as a nation were late in adopting an initiative that existed in some form or another across the rest of western Europe, North America and Australasia for decades. Our version of the scheme was introduced when Gordon Brown was Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late 1990s and the lack of publicity surrounding the initiative is reflected when the yearly statistics are published for spend and the proportionality to GDP, with the UK falling well behind our global counterparts. 

We British have an innate belief that to be an upstanding and somehow more morally-respectable individual that we shouldn’t take up an offer that some people still view as free money— this is lunacy. One thing that we need to establish immediately is that this isn’t money for old rope, nor is it a grant. The R&D scheme should be viewed as a mechanism for national government to reward (or at least partially-subsidise) domestic businesses when they attempt to take a financial risk in developing something that could be viewed as new and innovative. 

That something could have the potential to change how competitors both nationally and internationally currently approach ‘the norm’; thereby spearheading future developments in this area. The company in question gains the reputation within their chosen industry for this achievement, alongside the commercial advantages, while the government has the promotional headline to herald and champion the great British tradition of being a nation of inventors and innovators (I can almost hear Boris Johnson citing the likes of Brunel and Fleming when addressing the interviewer) — everybody wins, it would seem?

The number of times that I hear phrases such as “but this is what we do for a living,” or “anyone could try to do what we’ve done” is frightening. When I hear a client say such things, the usual response that I give them is, “okay, but has anyone done it yet?” and if the answer I get is yes, then, “does everyone in your industry know how to do it then?” Most of the time, I get a no.

The list of industries that I have helped over a period spanning close to five years that I have been involved with the R&D Scheme never ceases to amaze me. Rare booksellers, developers of software programmes that monitor and maintain satellites, food scientists, craft brewers, e-liquid makers, civil engineering companies, specialist sound engineers, commercial coffee roasters, mining companies, toy manufacturers for adults who are too old to be playing with toys (yes, those types of toys…), bed and mattress designers, cryotherapy providers, slushie machines, 5G antennas, CBD cosmetics & remedies — I could go on for another paragraph.

But before I get bogged down in the rhetoric, it is the people that I meet that make my job as fulfilling as it is. People with a passion for what they are doing, people who genuinely care about their company and their products. 

A few months ago, I spoke with a client based out of Blackburn, Lancashire. This company was a manufacturer of paper and card packaging, who, as 2019 ended, foresaw the challenges that the Coronavirus would usher in to 2020. They began to explore ways to manufacture cheap and disposable PPE for the NHS workers out of card; effectively ceasing all other production activities as the pandemic’s grip began to tighten around the neck of front-line emergency workers. When I discussed this with the Managing Director, I asked him if this had a negative impact on his business, his answer was “Of course, but we had to do something to help.”

This is one example of many companies that I encounter every week. So, it isn’t hard to see why I count myself as being in a privileged position. I get the opportunity to meet passionate people, driven by purposes that transcend merely the financial requirements of making ends meet.

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