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Northern Ireland SMEs continue to innovate through R&D Tax Credits but large companies are the big winners

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Nico Fell

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Northern Ireland SMEs continue to innovate through R&D Tax Credits but large companies are the big winners

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SME companies across Northern Ireland are still losing out on potentially tens of thousands of pounds in R&D tax credit savings every year compared to their counterparts across the rest of the UK, according to R&D Tax Credits specialist The Momentum Group.

Analysis of the latest HMRC figures released today show that Northern Ireland businesses accounted for £75m of all R&D tax credits claimed across the UK for the year 2017-2018. However, this accounts for just 2.7% of the total number of claims on a national level and a mere 1.7% of the total monetary benefit claimed.

Of the 1,310 Northern Ireland claims, 1,100 were claimed under the SME R&D scheme with the remainder claimed under schemes for large companies (RDEC).

The average amount claimed by companies in Northern Ireland was £57,250, with the average for SMEs being £41,000. For SMEs, this represents an 11% increase in the number of claims and a 13% increase in the value of claims.

Significantly, there has been a serious shift in how Northern Ireland’s larger companies are benefiting the most from the scheme. Statistics illustrate a 25% increase in the number of claims, yet the monetary value of these have increased by 150%.

Tom Verner, Managing Director of The Momentum Group, commented: “Northern Ireland firms are finally waking up to the R&D tax relief schemes. However, many SMEs are still continuing to hit the snooze button whilst larger companies are taking full advantage of the scheme. For the first time on a national scale, Northern Ireland’s large companies are the big winners here.

“These latest figures from HMRC are a demonstration of once again how Northern Ireland companies are punching above their weight. When you drill into the statistics on a directly comparative level, Northern Ireland firms are holding their own against the rest of the UK. With Brexit looming, it is imperative that innovative firms – no matter what their sector – do not disregard what is in effect ‘money on the table’.”

Continuing a recent trend, London, the South East and the East of England made the highest number of claims over the course of the year, accounting for nearly half (46%) of all claims and over three-fifths (61%) of the total monetary amount claimed.

On a UK-wide scale, the figures show a concentration of claims (68%) in the ‘Manufacturing’, ‘Professional, Scientific & Technical’ and ‘Information & Communication’ sectors, with this making up nearly three-quarters (73%) of the total monetary amount claimed.

Commenting on the findings, Stephen Kelly, Chief Executive of Manufacturing NI, said: “Whilst it is encouraging to see an increase in the number of claims made by Northern Ireland companies, it is still surprising to see how much firms are missing out on.

“Every day we see incredible examples of innovation across the manufacturing industry in Northern Ireland. This is heavily underpinned by R&D – be it through investing in people and skills, new equipment, improved products or processes. Given the amount of challenges being presented by Brexit, incentives such as these could prove particularly useful for firms across Northern Ireland.”

Mr Verner continued: “Whilst uptake of the UK government’s R&D tax credit schemes are increasing across the UK as a whole and is very healthy in certain regions, not all companies in Northern Ireland are reaping the full benefits of the scheme.

“Also, local companies could be underclaiming or overclaiming because their technical project activities and expenditures are not being accurately interpreted against government legislation. As well as the introduction of increased scrutiny over claims by HMRC, the process of claiming is very much a technical assessment, so it is important that companies instruct a specialist advisor to handle this for them.”

Since its inception, Momentum has helped its clients identify over £135 million in eligible R&D expenditure.

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