Res­i­dents of NI care home group fac­ing an­other sale

Belfast Telegraph - Business Telegraph - - Front Page - BY MAR­GARET CAN­NING

AROUND 58 care homes in North­ern Ire­land are likely to be af­fected if op­er­a­tor Four Sea­sons changes hands for the fifth time in re­cent years, it has emerged.

US hedge fund H/2 Cap­i­tal Part­ners, which con­trols Four Sea­sons, has put it up for sale af­ter it failed to pay off a por­tion of debt.

But a spokesman for the group in North­ern Ire­land said it would be “busi­ness as usual” for res­i­dents if a sale takes place.

“Our mes­sage is that it’s busi­ness as usual,” said the spokesman. “Four Sea­sons has been sold four times over the last 15 years, and, each time, res­i­dents and their fam­i­lies don’t ex­pe­ri­ence any dif­fer­ence and ser­vices con­tinue as nor­mal.”

One in­dus­try in­sider said that if a sale does take place, it is likely to be to an­other pri­vate eq­uity firm.

Terra Firma bought the busi­ness six years ago. Last year the busi­ness es­caped ad­min­is­tra­tion af­ter H/2 Cap­i­tal Part­ners agreed to con­tinue its sup­port.

While Four Sea­sons owns many of the build­ings hous­ing its homes in North­ern Ire­land outright, it’s un­der­stood that a small num­ber of other leased homes have al­ready been placed on the mar­ket.

Seven years ago, South­ern Cross, which was then the UK’S big­gest op­er­a­tor in the sec­tor, folded af­ter fi­nan­cial prob­lems caused by ris­ing rents and fall­ing oc­cu­pancy. South­ern Cross op­er­ated 26 homes in North­ern Ire­land, some of which were taken over by Four Sea­sons.

Four Sea­sons’ port­fo­lio of homes in­cludes a com­bi­na­tion of care homes and nurs­ing homes.

There are ma­jor in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tors in North­ern Ire­land in­clud­ing Mack­lin Group.

CARE home op­er­a­tor Four Sea­sons — which has 58 homes in North­ern Ire­land — has been put on the mar­ket by its US owner.

US hedge fund H/2 Cap­i­tal Part­ners, which is in ef­fec­tive con­trol of the group, has put Four Sea­sons up for sale and swept aside the com­pany’s se­nior man­age­ment, in­stalling Baroness Mar­garet Ford and Mark Or­dan on the board of di­rec­tors.

It comes af­ter the care homes gi­ant, which is still nom­i­nally owned by Guy Hands’ pri­vate eq­uity ve­hi­cle Terra Firma, failed to pay off a por­tion of debt owed to H/2.

The busi­ness is North­ern Ire­land’s big­gest care home op­er­a­tor and has a mix of care homes and nurs­ing homes.

A spokesman for the group in North­ern Ire­land said it was “busi­ness as usual” in North­ern Ire­land for its res­i­dents and their fam­i­lies.

As its prin­ci­pal cred­i­tor, the Amer­i­can hedge fund, run by Spencer Haber, now holds sway over the firm’s as­sets and con­trols the group.

“These changes have been made in fur­ther­ance of an in­de­pen­dent sales process and fa­cil­i­tate such a process tak­ing place,” Four Sea­sons said yes­ter­day, adding that a “trans­par­ent arm’s length sales process for the sale of all or sub­stan­tially all of the as­sets of the group” is un­der way.

The move throws into doubt Four Sea­sons’ long-term fu­ture, amid wor­ries over its fi­nan­cial per­for­mance.

It has been stung by a cut in lo­cal au­thor­ity fees, ris­ing costs and the in­tro­duc­tion of the na­tional liv­ing wage, and the group has con­tin­u­ously warned over its long-term sta­bil­ity.

On top of this, Four Sea­sons is strug­gling un­der a £500m-plus moun­tain of debt, which is con­trolled by H/2 and other bond­hold­ers, who are also thought to have sanc­tioned the sale.

H/2, which has been at­tempt­ing to re­struc­ture the busi­ness, has pre­vi­ously said it stands ready to take con­trol of the care homes group, with Baroness Ford, for­mer chair­man of ri­val Barch­ester, lined up to be­come chair­man.

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