NAHL plc – the company that owns National Accident Helpline – has seen a modest recovery since lockdown restrictions eased but personal injury and conveyancing work is still at 50% of pre-Covid levels, its chief executive said today.
Russell Atkinson also revealed that it has restructured the business – “to maximise efficiencies” – meaning that the personal injury and residential property arms have been combined as a new consumer legal services division.
At the moment, NAHL only provides marketing and property searches to conveyancers, but it emerged in April that it was investigating also handling transactions itself, mirroring the move it has made in personal injury.
Mr Atkinson said volumes dropped by between 75-90% in the early days of lockdown compared to pre-Covid levels.
“This is a result of fewer vehicles being on the roads, the number of workers furloughed or working from home and the housing market coming to a standstill.
“More recently, as the UK has emerged from lockdown, conditions have improved somewhat, and we are currently experiencing volumes that are approximately 50% below pre-Covid levels.
“Throughout the pandemic period, we have actively recalibrated our marketing activity and are encouraged by recent improvements in our SEO performance.”
The company furloughed around a third of its staff as a result of falling personal injury enquiries.
However, the critical care division – Bush & Company Rehabilitation – has demonstrated “a reasonable level of resilience in challenging conditions”, with case management continuing remotely, “albeit volumes have been slightly reduced”, with face to face meetings now restarting as lockdown measures ease.
Mr Atkinson said the group has been actively managing its balance sheet and, as at 31 May, net debt was £21.7m with a £25m revolving credit facility committed until December 2021.
“The group continues to have positive discussions with its bank regarding its debt facility and does not anticipate the need for further funding.”
He said it was still too early to quantify the full impact of Covid-19 on the company’s 2020 results “with any degree of certainty”, but he was confident in its ability “to emerge from this period as a sustainable business”.
NAHL’s 2019 results recorded that profits fell by nearly 80% to £2.2m as it was hit by uncertainty in the personal injury and property markets. Turnover increased 5% to £51m.
Its shares crashed in February after it said uncertainty in the personal injury market would significantly affect its performance in 2020, meaning it had to suspend paying any dividends.
NAHL’s share price ended 2019 on 100p, down 7% on the year, and a long way from its 2015 peak of 404p. It then fell to 56p on the back of the February announcement and went as low as 34p as the whole market dived in response to the pandemic. The price closed yesterday at 40p.