R&D grants and tax credits news: Loss-making firms to get R&D refunds

Companies engaged in eligible R&D can claim a refund of 15 per cent. Photo / File BusinessDesk

Article originally published by  By: Pattrick Smellie July 14th, 2019

Loss-making companies that invest in eligible research and development will be able to claim cash refunds in proportion to their payroll figures from the 2020/21 tax year.

The policy, hidden in an omnibus tax bill tabled in Parliament in late June, represents an important last step in the government’s decision to stop relying on direct grants from Callaghan Innovation and allow individual firms to claim the cost of research against their payroll tax liability instead.

The policy answers the major flaw in the current policy: that many firms investing in R&D are at an early stage of development and plan to make losses while they pursue growth and eventual profitability. That prevents them from taking advantage of tax rebates on R&D until they turn a profit at some time in the future.

That excluded many start-up and fast-growing, innovating companies from the policy, despite being one type of firm that the government wants to encourage to undertake research and development to deliver eventual profitability.

New Zealand’s most prominent example is the software accounting firm Xero, which has racked up losses totalling $343.9 million since 2006, according to its 2019 annual report, as it has pursued profitability only since achieving sufficient global scale. The company is close to declaring a maiden profit and has begun reporting positive cashflow.

Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods on Friday drew public attention to the changes, which are tucked away in the Taxation (KiwiSaver, Student Loans and Remedial Matters) Bill, which has yet to have its first reading in Parliament.

The extension to allow refunds for loss-making companies will allow companies engaged in eligible R&D to claim a refund of 15 per cent of those costs, limited only by the size of the firm’s payroll.

In other words, a firm with a $100,000 payroll that undertook $100,000 of R&D could claim a $15,000 refund, but no more.

The 15 per cent refund rate is the same as the rebate offered to profitable firms claiming for deductible R&D expenses, which currently allows rebates up to a total of $255,000, equal to $1.7m of eligible R&D expenditure. However, the new bill proposes “that the existing corporate eligibility criteria, wage intensity test, and $255,000 cap be removed and replaced with a payroll-tax based cap”, according to explanatory notes from the Inland Revenue Department.

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