Ever wondered about the brains behind Hamilton Blake Consulting? We sat down with the partners, Simon Wilby and Darryl Hazelhurst-Jeavons, to chat about research and development, innovation, and what makes them tick. After all, every good business is greater than the sum of its parts…
Hi Simon and Darryl. Could you briefly introduce yourselves?
Simon: I became a partner at Hamilton Blake in March 2020, but I joined five years ago when I was fresh out of university. I studied accounting and finance at Anglia Ruskin University and trained as an accountant with the ACCA at Hamilton Blake, completing this and becoming a member in 2019. I have now transferred this to the ACPA, so I am now a chartered public accountant. I’m also a Norwich City FC fan, and I have a five-month-old red Labrador puppy called Dexter.
Darryl: My journey to Hamilton Blake is a bit longer than Simon’s! I trained with a large international tax firm and went on to work at several different firms as a consultant and tax advisor. I founded Hamilton Blake in 2006 as I wanted to create a tax consultancy with a personal approach. I’m not into that churn and burn business mentality: I believe in quality over quantity. Since then Hamilton Blake has grown considerably, but it wasn’t until Simon came along that we focussed on R&D tax relief specifically. Then we grabbed the bull by the horns and took it to the next level. I’m a very relaxed character, so outside of work I love playing golf, taking holidays, and indulging my guitar addiction.
You’re both partners at Hamilton Blake Consulting, but do you have different roles or strengths within the business?
Simon: I manage the day-to-day running of the company, such as workflows and managing staff. When we face a real brain teaser of a tax problem, that’s when Darryl steps in. From a technical point of view, Darryl is one of the best tax accountants I have ever worked with. But really, we do a lot together. I think the rapport between us helps us form such great relationships with our clients. It just works.
What sets Hamilton Blake Consulting apart from its competitors?
Simon: Our personal approach. Many of our clients don’t know about R&D tax relief when they come to us, so there’s a lot of uncertainty. Building up that trust is essential. We visit all our clients in person so we can get to know them. We’re a busy team, so there might be several colleagues working on each project. But our clients know that if there’s ever a problem, they can call Darryl or myself personally.
Darryl: Yes, and I think it’s that personal service that allowed us to grow so quickly. From conversations with our existing client base the personal approach is something our clients really appreciate and one of the main reasons many partner with us.
What advice would you give to businesses that are already claiming their R&D tax back?
Simon: Be careful who you work with; there is a lot of poor advice out there. R&D relief is a very lucrative tax system, but that, unfortunately, lays it open to fraud. We’ve seen other R&D consultancies that advise across sectors. Think a ‘jack of all trades’ type. Since they don’t know any one sector inside out, they rely on the client to point out the R&D. That feels unfair to me. If you’re paying a specialist R&D consultant, they should be able to pick out the R&D. Hamilton Blake, on the other hand, specialises in R&D for architects, engineers, and designers. I may not be an architect, but I can sit and have a conversation about architecture and pick out which bits of a project are R&D.
Darryl: To further Simon’s point, remember that HMRC has the right to question any part of an R&D tax claim. You need to feel confident about who you’re working with and know they’re with you every step of the way.
What’s the biggest client success story you’ve seen?
Simon: My biggest win is probably a project we took over from another tax consultant. They were at an impasse. HMRC wouldn’t allow the claim, but their other tax adviser wouldn’t budge. We managed to resolve the enquiry through open and honest communication with HMRC and got the claim approved for almost the same value. It felt great to transform a really bad situation into a success story.
Darryl: Personally, I think it’s not all about financial value, but value to the client. There’s nothing more satisfying than when your work makes a material difference to a business. When we help an SME receive £20k and the company can buy a new bit of kit or hire a graduate, that make a real difference to this company. And that’s what this incentive is for: to stimulate the economy. We’ve had company directors phoning us almost in tears to thank us for our help, which really does feel amazing.
How do you think the coronavirus pandemic has impacted innovation in the UK?
Simon: I think Covid-19 has proved just how essential innovation is to the UK, and why we need the R&D tax relief incentive. Covid-19 has touched all areas of our lives, and we can’t live in the ways we used to. We need innovation to help us change the ways we interact with the world going forward. We’ve seen exhibition companies coming up for ideas on how to safely re-open their industry. We have clients developing potentially lifesaving machines which can be introduced into our daily lives to help negate the effects of Covid. An incentive scheme like R&D tax relief ensures that businesses are rewarded, not harmed, for the innovative risk-taking we need to move forward through this pandemic.
What constitutes as R&D, and what doesn’t?
Simon: We work with HMRC’s definition of research and development, which is: to show technical uncertainty where the answer isn’t readily deducible to a competent professional.
If your company is an expert in its field but isn’t immediately certain how to solve a problem on a project, that process is probably research and development. It usually involves figuring out the best way to do something, and often features several design iterations. If something’s difficult but obviously possible, that’s not R&D.
And what would you say to a business that’s not sure if they qualify for R&D tax relief?
Darryl: Start by talking to your accountant. They should be able to advise you, and a good accountant will refer you to someone else if they’re unsure. And it’s not about whether a business is eligible or not, it’s about whether their projects are eligible. Most routine work is not R&D: only about 15-25% of our clients’ projects qualify for R&D tax relief. I would urge anyone that’s uncertain to give us a call. Hamilton Blake Consulting offers free upfront advice, and our fee model is contingent. That means it doesn’t cost your business anything unless your R&D claim is successful. There’s really nothing to lose for the sake of a 30-minute chat!
Thank you, Simon and Darryl.
Want to find out if your business could be eligible for research and development tax relief? Get in touch with Hamilton Blake Consulting.