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HMRC internal manual

Corporate Intangibles Research and Development Manual

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HM Revenue & Customs
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R&D tax relief: categories of qualifying expenditure: subcontracted activities - meaning of subcontracted

Subcontracted R&D activities

Where there is a contract between persons for R&D activities to be carried out by one for the other, then the R&D activities have been subcontracted. A contract to provide services rather than to undertake a specific part of the activities is not subcontracted R&D. Nor is a contract of personal employment.

There are obviously a considerable variety of possible contractual arrangements. Some examples are:

  • Where a company carries out R&D on its own account (retaining use of the intellectual property in the work) and simply receives a subsidy from another entity, this is not subcontracting - it is subsidised expenditure.
  • Where two companies are both carrying out R&D on the same subject they may decide to pursue the R&D jointly with each making a contribution and each free to enjoy any fruits of the R&D. This is collaborative research and each company would potentially be eligible for R&D relief on its share of the qualifying expenditure.
  • Where one company carrying out R&D pays another company for the provision of workers, or materials this is not subcontracting of the R&D.
  • Where one company engages another company to carry out R&D activity on the first company’s behalf in exchange for payment, with the first company having rights to the intellectual property resulting from the R&D then that is subcontracting of the R&D to the second company.

The above examples illustrate a range of situations. But each case will need to be judged on its particular facts. As part of any examination it may be useful to examine the degree of autonomy enjoyed by the person engaged, the ownership of intellectual property, and the economic risk in any arrangements. Where for example a consultant simply provides expert advice and charges for his time that does not amount to subcontracting of the R&D.

Subcontracting - differences in rules for SMEs and large companies

The rules in regard to qualifying expenditure for subcontracted R&D (CIRD84200) differ under the SME scheme and the large company scheme. Before considering mounting any arguments you should consider the appropriate tax treatment, so as to better focus attention on those areas where tax is at risk.