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Cash injection through innovation boosts agency growth

As technology becomes more pervasive, the design sector becomes more strategic and many agencies and consultancies are moving into the world of innovation, research and development – although they may not recognise those words as describing what they do. Many creative businesses do not realise that what they already do, on a day-to-day basis, could qualify for research and development (R&D) tax credits – a cash boost or tax relief from HMRC.

If you are involved in developing new or improved products, processes, or services, for example creating:

  • Physical products (new packaging closures, industrial design of pretty much anything)
  • Digital products (bespoke web solutions, Artificial Intelligence, AR, VR etc)

If there is risk or uncertainty involved in the development process, then you should be paying attention, as you may be carrying out qualifying R&D activity.

We recently interviewed Nick Howe, Managing Director of Uniform about their experience of claiming R&D tax credits.

cashNick, tell us a little about the innovation that you’re doing at Uniform.

We have an R&D programme that falls into two parts. The first is every day R&D that involves client work. With each client project, we look at how we can achieve results quicker, produce something better, or develop something smarter. We look at how we can innovate to solve our clients problems.

Secondly, we have a more formal and long-term R&D innovation programme, run by a specific team that explores two to three big tech driven themes per year, or longer if necessary. Right now we’re focused on AI, we’re looking at prototype projects, and some immersive AR and VR product development that sits in-between R&D and client work.

As a small business, how have you been able to fund this kind of work?

We made a conscious financial and business decision to forward fund our R&D and innovation programme as an investment about six years ago. We wanted to be a front-runner and externally it sent a strong message and cemented our position as innovators. Internally, the team know it’s not a luxury, while the innovation department sits outside our day-to-day services, their work and influence bleeds into client work every day.

The establishment of our R&D / innovation department has meant that the work being produced as a part of that is fully eligible for R&D tax credits, so there is an element of continuous self-funding as we reinvest in innovation.

Has claiming changed your approach to innovation (and risk)? 

In a way claiming de-risks the innovation work. It’s easier to launch into a project that might be deemed risky or unusual if we know we’ll receive a percentage of that spend back. It’s much easier to justify any spend or cost of investing in innovation work.

Has it changed the culture of your business at all? 

Well, we’re about to re-launch our website and re-communicate our offer more clearly, with R&D at the core. Innovation as a commercially significant part of our business is increasingly important, and with a focus on design thinking, sprints, innovation workshops – lots of this stems from the culture of R&D from within the business and the ability to continue practising this – made easier with the success we’ve had through claiming R&D tax credits and the opportunities this has opened for further innovation.

How easy is the process, and how much time does it take, and what would your advice be to design companies cashthinking about making an R&D tax credit claim, but not sure if it’s for them?

Explore the option – even if you’re sceptical. We were claiming on our own, with support from our accountants, and while that was successful, we didn’t realise until we started working with ForrestBrown that we were eligible to claim so much more. ForrestBrown are highly competent, they know the rules, what you can and can’t do. Working with them has been quite eye opening for us, in terms of understanding what were eligible costs – in a way that is robust and defensible. ForrestBrown has almost doubled what we were already receiving from our own claim, they helped us to interpret the process and the rules, and shaved about a two thirds off the time it took us to claim on our own.

We explored the market and chose ForrestBrown from three different specialists, purely on the basis that we felt ForrestBrown understood the design industry the best. They’re very strong in digital and in their understanding of design and innovation.

What are R&D tax credits worth?

How much R&D tax credits are worth depends on how much money you have spent on qualifying R&D activity. You can include the following costs in your claim: staff, subcontractors, materials, and consumables (such as heat, light and power).

SMEs are able to recoup up to 33p for every pound spent on qualifying expenditure using the SME R&D tax credit scheme. This means if you have qualifying costs of £500,000, you could receive a benefit worth £166,750.

How to claim

As Nick mentions, it’s best to work with true experts in this specialist area when submitting a claim. They will optimize the value of your claim. This means including everything that is valid, whilst also ensuring it can be robustly backed up should HMRC challenge it.

We can arrange for ForrestBrown’s team of chartered tax advisers – complemented by industry experts and former HMRC R&D unit tax inspectors – to handle your claim. They will gather information from the relevant people in your business, prepare all the paperwork and liaise with HMRC on your behalf.

For a free eligibility assessment or review of a claim you have already submitted, get in touch with the ForrestBrown team on 0117 926 9022 or and quote the code DBA.

About: ForrestBrown

ForrestBrown is an award-winning tax consultancy specialising in research and development (R&D) tax credits. Their team of chartered tax advisers help innovative businesses grow. This level of specialism means their chartered tax advisers have a deep understanding of the R&D tax legislation and its application to businesses throughout the UK, and creative businesses in particular. 


Image credit | Uniform


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