The History of R&D Tax Credits In The UK

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R&D Tax Credit History

Research and development (R&D) tax credits have become an essential tool for the UK government to encourage innovation and investment in a variety of industries. Over the years, the UK’s R&D tax relief scheme has evolved, adapting to the changing needs of businesses and the economy. 

In this article, we will explore the history of R&D tax credits in the UK, and how various changes have impacted loss making companies, the RDEC rate increase, advances in science, payable tax credits, and more.

The Beginnings of R&D Tax Credits in the UK

In the late 1990s, the UK government recognised the need to incentivise R&D investment to promote growth and maintain a competitive edge in the global market. The first R&D tax relief scheme was introduced in 2000 for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), followed by the large company scheme in 2002. These schemes aimed to reduce the corporation tax burden for businesses investing in qualifying R&D expenditure.

The SME Scheme and the Large Company Scheme

The SME scheme was designed to benefit smaller businesses that invested in R&D activities. The scheme provided an enhanced tax deduction on qualifying R&D expenditure, allowing SMEs to claim up to 175% of their R&D costs as a deduction from their taxable profits. 

Additionally, loss making companies could claim a payable tax credit, which was particularly beneficial for start-ups and businesses in the early stages of development.

On the other hand, the large company scheme allowed larger businesses to claim a tax deduction of up to 130% of their qualifying R&D expenditure. However, this scheme did not offer the same payable tax credit option for loss making companies as the SME scheme did.

The Introduction of the Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) Scheme in April 2013

In April 2013, the UK government introduced the Research and Development Expenditure Credit (RDEC) scheme as a replacement for the large company scheme. This new scheme aimed to provide a more transparent and accessible system for businesses to claim R&D tax relief. The RDEC rate increase over time has made the scheme even more attractive, with the credit rate reaching 13% by 2021.

The RDEC scheme calculates the R&D tax credit as a percentage of the qualifying R&D expenditure, which can be offset against the company’s corporation tax liability or, in some cases, claimed as a payable tax credit. This change allowed loss making companies to benefit from the scheme, as they could now claim a payable tax credit even if they had no corporation tax liability.

The Super Deduction and Its Impact on R&D Investment

In 2021, the UK government introduced the ‘super deduction,’ a temporary measure aimed at stimulating R&D investment by providing a 130% capital allowance on qualifying plant and machinery investments. This allowance, combined with the existing R&D tax credit scheme, created a powerful incentive for businesses to invest in innovative projects, further driving advances in science and technology.

Data and Cloud Computing: A New Frontier for R&D Tax Relief

As technology continues to evolve, the scope of R&D tax credits has expanded to include new areas of innovation, such as data and cloud computing. Recognising the importance of these emerging technologies, the UK government has updated its guidelines on qualifying R&D expenditure. This ensures that businesses investing in data and cloud computing projects can benefit from R&D tax relief.

R&D Over The Years

Over the years, the UK’s R&D tax relief scheme has undergone several significant changes, with the introduction of the RDEC scheme, the RDEC rate increase, and the super deduction, all contributing to a more robust and accessible system for businesses. By continually adapting the R&D tax credit landscape, the UK government has fostered a supportive environment for innovation and growth. This encourages businesses to invest in research and development projects that push the boundaries of science and technology.

Future Prospects and Challenges

As the global economy becomes more competitive, the UK’s R&D tax credit scheme must continue to evolve to stay relevant and effective in stimulating innovation. Some potential areas for further development and improvement include:


  1. Expanding the scope of eligible R&D activities: As new technologies and industries emerge, the UK government must ensure that its definition of qualifying R&D expenditure remains broad and inclusive, enabling businesses in various sectors to benefit from R&D tax relief.
  2. Strengthening collaboration between industry and academia: Encouraging greater cooperation between businesses and research institutions can lead to more effective and impactful R&D projects, further driving innovation and economic growth.
  3. Fostering a culture of innovation: To fully capitalise on the potential of R&D tax credits, the UK government must work on promoting a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, inspiring businesses to take risks and invest in groundbreaking research.


In conclusion, the history of R&D tax credits in the UK is a testament to the government’s commitment to fostering innovation and encouraging businesses to invest in research and development. By continually adapting and refining the R&D tax relief scheme, the UK has positioned itself as a leading destination for cutting-edge research and technological advancement. As new challenges and opportunities arise, it will be crucial for the UK to continue evolving its R&D tax credit system to remain at the forefront of global innovation and economic growth.

If you are interested in finding out if you are eligible for R&D tax credits, get in touch with our team today. We operate on a no-win-no-fee basis, and create a streamlined process that makes it easy for busy business owners. Book your call today to find out more about this opportunity.

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