Magic circle rivals aim to ease Southern Cross financial pain

Clifford Chance, Eversheds, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Lovells have all scooped roles to help Southern Cross Healthcare secure a rescue package that will prevent the stricken care home operator from going into administration.

Simon Johnson
Simon Johnson

The UK’s largest care home group, which unusually for the sector does not own any of its 753 properties, can no longer afford to pay its rent because of slower-than-expected rises in fees from local authorities.

Freshfields partners Simon Johnson and Adam Gallagher are acting for Capita Asset Services, the special servicer to the £1.2bn of debt owed by Southern Cross’ largest landlord NHP.

Approximately £630m of the most senior debt has been securitised and as a result Capita has essentially stepped into NHP’s lenders’ shoes.

Freshfields won the ­mandate to act for Capita thanks to the magic circle firm’s historic role advising Capmark, which sold its loan servicing and special servicing business to Capita.

Meanwhile, magic circle rival Clifford Chance is ­acting for Southern Cross led by partner Nicholas Frome. The firm advised Southern Cross’ former ­private equity owner Blackstone Group on its London Stock Exchange debut on 7 July 2006. The IPO, which was Blackstone’s first-ever European exit and valued Southern Cross at £423m, was initially postponed due to stock market turbulence.

Ashurst originally acted for Blackstone when it bought Southern Cross in September 2004. However, Clifford Chance won its first major instruction from the private equity group a few months later.

NHP is being advised Eversheds insolvency partner Paul de la Pena. Lovells restructuring partner Stephen Foster, meanwhile, is acting for Southern Cross’s lenders, which include Barclays and Lloyds.

Southern Cross’s financial woes have already resulted in the group announcing 3,000 job losses, taking staff numbers from 44,000 to 41,000 by October 2011.

At the time of going to press Southern Cross’s landlords committee, which has drafted in restructuring ­specialist AlixPartners, had agreed to a reduction in rent.
The landlords committee is being advised by Linklaters financing partner David Ereira.

“The landlords have agreed in principle that they will make significant ­financial concessions to achieve a sustainable solution,” said Daniel Smith, a partner at Grant Thornton and chairman of the ­Southern Cross landlords’ ­committee, made up of eight of the company’s biggest landlords. “Our overriding concern at this time remains minimising disruption and concern for residents and their families.”