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The difference between generic R&D and claimable R&D

Oct 25, 2023

What’s the difference between generic R&D and claimable R&D?

Written by Mark Woodstock, Senior Technical Analyst


There’s lots and lots of rules when it comes to claimable R&D, but there are two key differences to look out for:

1) Is the R&D aiming to do or create something innovative/disruptive/potentially patentable/genuinely new and exciting or solving a long-standing industry-wide problem?

2) Were the works to achieve it genuinely challenging? A way to gauge this is, was it known in their industry how to achieve this or not and how long did it take to resolve?

If we take Coca-Cola as an example – most supermarkets sell several kinds of cola-type drinks.

Therefore, it’s reasonable to surmise that the food & beverage industry knows how to make a cola drink, and therefore, that would probably not be claimable. But, were Coca-Cola aiming to create a version of their drink with no refined sugar or artificial sweeteners, yet tasted the same as ”full-fat Coke“ with half the calories, that could well be classed as innovative – solving a long-standing problem and being genuinely difficult to achieve.

The R&D claims sector’s changed significantly over the past five years. HMRC competence has reduced alongside staffing levels, resulting in having to compile claims that are specific and understandable to anyone – despite describing highly technical activities.

There are certain scientific or technological sectors where there’s almost always claimable R&D. Such as medical, green tech and cutting-edge engineering. Potential examples include:

  • Reducing vehicular/marine/aerospace battery weight and increasing battery efficiency
  • New or improved medicine and vaccines
  • Motorsport power-to-weight ratios

Some sectors have become more and more problematic to claim, due to the specific nature of the legislation. Affected sectors include software development, construction and food development. Problematic claims can include:

  • Websites and CRM (or equivalent) systems
  • Chef’s trialling new recipes
  • Builders doing standard activities, regardless of space or ground constraints
  • Any software creation using established development techniques
  • & yes, pub menus!

What’s become clear is that HMRC’s not interested in the project’s goals – however altruistic or beneficial – they are purely interested in the challenge and the innovation.

HMRC do hone in on certain phrases or themes negatively, and these are best avoided:

  • Describing things as bespoke, first-in-class or unique
  • Innovative activities that were not challenging
  • Challenging activities that are not innovative or ground-breaking
  • A short-term challenge, maybe a couple of months or less
  • Anything that available industry knowledge could currently achieve given the same idea.


I hope that gives some insight into the work our team undertakes. If you have any questions, or would like to run a potential R&D project by us, please contact us.


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