RDEC: Guide to the UK Research and Development Expenditure Credit

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(Last updated July 2019)

In this article, we provide a detailed guide to everything you need to know about the Research and Development Expenditure Credit – more commonly known as the “RDEC” for short.

You can access our Ultimate Guide to R&D tax credits here.

What is the RDEC tax incentive and who benefits?

The Research and Development Expenditure Credit (‘RDEC’) is a UK Government tax incentive available to ‘Large companies’ (see definition below) or SMEs in receipt of grants. 

It replaces the legacy Large Company enhanced corporation deduction (30%) with effect from 1 April 2016.

This supplements the SME R&D Tax Credit Relief and applies to companies that are not defined as SMEs.

It can also cover certain situations where the SME R&D tax relief is not available to SMEs e.g. due to the receipt of grants (see further below).

RDEC: What are the key tax benefits?

The RDEC provides a reduction in corporation tax payable for profitable companies or a repayable tax credit for loss-making companies that equates to 9.7% of the total qualifying R&D expenditure in the period

  • The RDEC allows loss-making Large Companies to claim cash tax credits from HMRC – previously only available to SME companies
  • The RDEC allows profitable Large Companies to pay a reduced amount of corporation tax
  • The RDEC provides a net cash tax benefit of 9.7% on qualifying R&D expenditure (at a corporation tax rate of 19%)
  • The RDEC allows for greater flexibility for Large Companies as they were previously ineligible for tax credit payments in loss situations up until 1 April 2013

RDEC: Who is eligible?

Non SMEs
Grant subsidised
Max R&D claimed
Companies (or groups) that fall outside the SME thresholds for R&D tax purposes – see further below
SMEs acting in the capacity of subcontractors on behalf of Large Companies
SMEs in receipt of grant funding or other subsidised R&D work
SMEs that exceed the maximum SME project expenditure limit of €7.5m

What is the definition of an SME for R&D tax purposes?

An SME is defined for R&D purposes as a company with:

  • < 500 employees AND either:
  • turnover < €100m OR
  • gross assets < €86m

Group companies need to be considered plus linked or partner enterprises as part of this test.

RDEC Scheme: What costs are eligible?

The following costs are eligible under the Large Company RDEC scheme:

  • staffing costs paid to directors/employees
  • expenditure on externally provided workers
  • software and materials
  • contributions to independent research
  • subcontracted – limited to qualifying bodies and individuals/partnerships

This is broadly similar to the definitions for SME R&D tax credits although particular note should be taken of the more restrictive interpretation of qualifying subcontracted costs.

RDEC: What is the credit rate?

The current rate of uplift on qualifying expenditure under the RDEC is 12% (11% up until 1 January 2018).

The 12% uplift is applied to the total of the qualifying expenditure for R&D tax purposes under the Large Company scheme.

RDEC: How is tax relief given?

The RDEC operates differently to the SME R&D tax scheme in that the uplift on qualifying costs creates a taxable receipt in the profit & loss account – this compares with the SME scheme that recognises the benefit of the R&D tax relief solely through the company’s corporation tax line in its statutory accounts.

The credit to the profit and loss account increases profits or decreases losses in the period.

This is why it is often referred to as an ‘above the line‘ credit.

It is recognised above the line in order to reflect the benefit of the R&D tax relief to the company. As it can otherwise often be overlooked when processed solely through the tax line – treated in this way, it is more akin to a grant in how it is reflected in the company’s accounts.

The credit is taxable and – assuming a corporation tax rate of 19% – the cash tax benefit is currently 9.7% of the qualifying R&D expenditure.

RDEC Calculation Example – Profitable Company

In this RDEC worked example calculation, we will apply the current 12% credit rate:




Less: qualifying R&D tax costs



Other costs



R&D Tax Credit @ 12%



Profit before tax



CT @ 19%



Less: R&D Tax Credit



Revised tax payable



R&D Cash Tax Benefit = £38,880 or 9.7% of the £400,000 qualifying R&D spend

RDEC Example calculation – Loss-making Company

Loss-making company example

Pre R&D

Post R&D







Less: qualifying R&D tax costs



Other costs



R&D Tax Credit @ 12%



Loss before tax



CT @ 19% (on R&D tax credit)



Less: R&D Tax Credit



R&D cash tax credit payable to company *



R&D Cash Tax Benefit = £38,800 or 9.7% of the £400,000 qualifying R&D spend 

* Note that there are other conditions that must be satisfied before a cash tax credit is payable to the company under the RDEC scheme (see further below).

RDEC: 7 steps to receiving your cash tax credit rebate

The 7 stage process is designed to ensure that only those companies that are up-to-date with their tax affairs and payments can benefit from the cash tax rebate option.

Note that with effect from 1 April 2019, any amendments made to include claims for RDEC relief must be filed in a revised and complete CT600 return.

We are going to simplify the 7 step test to ‘just’ 5 for our purposes. These five stages may be summarised as follows:

1. Deduction of corporation tax at the main rate

The repayable tax credit is payable only after first deducting the corporation tax due (including on the tax credit) in the period

2. PAYE / NIC cap

The repayable tax credit is capped by the PAYE/NIC amount paid by the company in the period in relation to the staff engaged in the R&D – note that this cap does not take into account the % apportionment applied to the employee staff costs as part of the claim calculation

3. PAYE / NIC / VAT arrears payable first

The repayable tax credit is payable to the company only after HMRC has checked for any arrears in relation to corporation tax, PAYE / NIC or VAT that will be deductible against the credit in advance

4. Optional set off against group company CT liabilities

The repayable tax credit can be offset against corporation tax liabilities of group companies in the period

5. Going concern requirement

The company must be a going concern to be entitled to the cash tax credit

Yes, you read it right – we’ve simplified the 7 stage test into 5 to capture the essence of HMRC’s requirements.

RDEC v SME R&D Tax Credit Scheme: What are the differences?

Definition of R&D:

Aside from the fundamental difference in application and approach to give effect to the tax relief within the financial statements of a company, the definitions that underpin the applicability of the R&D tax relief remain the same.

The administrative process for filing an RDEC claim:

With respect to the process for filing a claim, a company is required to prepare and file a technical justification report that supports the underlying nature of the qualifying project work along with supporting claim calculations in the same way as under the SME R&D scheme.

Qualifying costs under RDEC:

In terms of the qualifying expenditure, there is one key difference and this is in relation to subcontracted costs.

Subcontracted costs to companies are not eligible under the Large Company scheme. It should be noted; however, that ‘externally provided workers’ (EPWs) are an eligible cost and therefore it is more important than ever to get the distinction right between EPWs and subcontractor relationships when dealing with RDEC claims.

It should also be noted that in the more restricted situations where the subcontracted costs do apply (e.g. for work subcontracted to qualifying bodies such as Unis or to individuals), the 65% cap that applies under the SME relief does not apply.

RDEC tax incentive: Some practical issues to consider

The RDEC is applied in a fundamentally different way to the SME R&D tax credit scheme and therefore there are a number of issues to consider:

  1. How the tax credit is treated in the profit and loss account under accounting standards – sometimes it is classified as a grant; however, this is for discussion with your accountants or auditors
  2. Impact on the financial accounts going forward if an estimate is of the tax credit is included or the claim is later challenged by HMRC and subsequently reduced. It is important to track the credit subject to tax in the accounts and to make any adjustments in the tax computation for under or overcharges to taxation
  3. Impact on quarterly instalment corporation tax payments should be considered for cash flow planning purposes given that the tax credit calculation has the effect of increasing taxable profits
  4. Impact on the effective tax rate for group tax planning given the higher profits subject to tax after taking into account the above the line tax credit

Don’t forget about the Patent Box

The RDEC has been designed to work alongside the Patent Box and therefore companies with qualifying patents should ensure that they have considered how to optimise the Patent Box tax relief in addition to the RDEC.

How we can help you with your RDEC claim

We are specialists in R&D tax credit claims and can offer an end-to-end solution in preparing and filing your RDEC claim with HMRC.

We are also accountants so this means that we can also advise on how your claim fits into the ‘bigger picture’ of your overall company tax profile.

Give us a call for a no-obligation discovery call: 01248 305002 / 0161 9610096