19 January 2022
NAHL Group PLC
("NAHL" or the "Group")
Pre-Close Trading Update and Revised Banking Facility
NAHL (AIM: NAH), a leader in the UK consumer legal services market, is today providing a trading update for the year ended 31 December 2021.
Group revenue for the year is anticipated to be in line with the Board's expectations at £38.9m, slightly below the prior year (2020: £40.9m). Underlying operating profit is expected to be at least £4.0m (2020: £5.7m), and also in line with the Board's expectations.
COVID-19 continued to have an impact on the Group's markets, with Government restrictions and cautious consumer behaviour supressing accident numbers. The results for 2021 reflect a full year of COVID-19 impact. The Group continues to invest in case processing in its own law firm, National Accident Law (NAL), in order to generate higher margins in the medium-term. During 2021, the number of personal injury enquiries placed into NAL increased by 130%, and there was a reduction in profits attributable to joint venture law firm partners of approximately 15% (2020: £4.1m). There were no exceptional costs in 2021 (2020: £1.4m). As a result, the Board expects the Group to report a small profit before tax for the year (2020: a loss of £0.2m).
The Group's strategic decision to prioritise increasing the number of enquiries placed into NAL resulted in a reduction in free cash flow to £0.8m for the year, compared to £6.1m in 2020 when the Group's focus was on increasing liquidity in response to the pandemic. Net debt at 31 December 2021 was £15.5m (31 December 2020: £16.3m).
Revenue in the Consumer Legal Services division was £26.6m (2020: £29.5m) and underlying operating profit is expected to be at least £3.5m (2020: £5.4m). National Accident Helpline generated 32,132 enquiries in the year compared to 36,214 in 2020, albeit the comparator year benefitted from a first quarter that was largely unaffected by COVID-19. Volumes trended positively in the second half of 2021 with a 27% increase in enquiries generated compared to the first half.
The Group progressed its strategy to create a higher margin Personal Injury business by increasing placement of enquiries into NAL by 130% in the year. NAL processed 26% of all enquiries generated in 2021, a significant increase over the 10% of enquiries it processed in 2020. At 31 December 2021, NAL was processing just under 8,000 ongoing claims, which was an increase of 166% on the previous year. The division also reduced placement of enquiries into joint-venture law firms by 73% in the year.
In the Critical Care division, Bush & Co. delivered revenue of £12.4m for the year (2020: £11.3m) and operating profit is expected to be at least £3.2m (2020: £3.6m). Ongoing investments in business development resulted in a 23% increase in expert witness instructions and a 5% increase in instructions for initial needs assessments. The business grew the number of expert witness reports issued in the year by 21% and marginally increased the number of ongoing case management cases, both contributing to the 9% increase in revenues.
Operating costs increased in 2021 because of investments in people, systems and marketing activity to grow the business, as well as changes to commercial agreements intended to secure associate resource.
Revised Banking Facility
The Board is pleased to announce that it has successfully extended the term of its Revolving Credit Facility (RCF) by two years to 31 December 2024. The limit on the facility has been reduced from £25m to £20m to appropriately reflect the Group's medium-term plans and the covenants have been reset and aligned with latest Board forecasts. The interest rate that the facility is linked to was migrated from LIBOR to a new risk-free reference rate (SONIA).
COVID-19 continues to present headwinds to the Group's two divisions, but the Board is pleased that activity levels since the start of 2022 have grown broadly in line with its planning assumptions.
The Board expects enquiry volumes in the Personal Injury business to continue to gradually recover, as the UK emerges from the pandemic and the population becomes more mobile. Management plans to continue to increase the placement of enquiries into NAL, by processing all RTA and an increasing number of higher margin non-RTA claims this year.
In Critical Care, Bush & Co. has a strong pipeline of work and a number of new initiatives that are expected to generate growth in 2022.
The Board continues to explore a divestiture of its conveyancing business and remains engaged with potential acquirers of the business. The Board will provide a further update as and when appropriate.
NAHL intends to announce its final results for the year ended 31 December 2021 on 29 March 2022.
James Saralis, CEO of NAHL, commented:
"While our business continued to experience headwinds throughout 2021, I am pleased with the progress we were able to make on our strategic objectives of creating a higher margin personal injury business and delivering growth in our catastrophic injury business. We grew the book of ongoing personal injury claims in National Accident Law by 166% and grew revenues in Bush & Co. by 9%, driven by our investments in business development.
"During the period, we were pleased to successfully extend our RCF with Yorkshire Bank through to December 2024, providing our business with the liquidity to continue to grow NAL. Finally, I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our people who have continued to work tirelessly throughout the period to strive for the best results for all of our stakeholders."
1) All full year 2021 numbers remain subject to audit.
2) Underlying operating profit is operating profit before exceptional items.
For further information please call:
NAHL Group PLC
James Saralis (CEO)
Chris Higham (CFO)
via FTI Consulting
Peel Hunt (NOMAD & Broker)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7418 8890
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FTI Consulting (Financial PR)
Tel: +44 (0) 20 3727 1000
Notes to Editors
NAHL Group plc (AIM: NAH) is a leader in the Consumer Legal Services ("CLS") market. The Group provides services and products to individuals and businesses in the CLS market through its two divisions:
· Consumer Legal Services provides outsourced marketing services to law firms through National Accident Helpline and Homeward Legal; and claims processing and conveyancing services to individuals through National Accident Law, Law Together and Your Law. In addition, it also provides property searches through Searches UK.
· Critical Care provides a range of specialist services in the catastrophic and serious injury market to both claimants and defendants through Bush & Co.