Southern Cross unveils closure plan
Staff and residents at more than 500 care homes have been left unsure over who would be running them after Southern Cross announced plans to shut down.
The cash-strapped operator, which has 752 homes and 31,000 residents, is to close after landlords refused to restructure rental agreements.
Landlords of 250 homes have agreed to take them back and run them themselves but negotiations are still ongoing with the owners of the other 502, a process that could take three to four months, it is understood.
The firm said final details of the plan have yet to be settled but all payments to trade creditors and staff are to be maintained to help with the transition to new owners or operators and keep continuity of care.
Southern Cross is the UK's largest care home operator but ran into a financial crisis brought on by a rising rent bill and lower fees as occupancy rates declined and local authorities reduced the number of patients they placed with the group. For some weeks it has been locked in negotiations over a restructuring of property arrangements.
It negotiated a 30% rent cut for four months while the talks continued but though some landlords had been expected to take back their properties, today's announcement that all had decided to walk away was a surprise.
Last week, Four Seasons, a care home operator that had leased 45 homes to Southern Cross, said it would take them all back and run them while Bondcare, another smaller operator with 40 homes, had already indicated it would take them back under its own control.
The group has 80 landlords but it is understood just eight owners account for 75% of the homes. NHP and London & Regional are the two largest landlords but have yet to reveal their plans.
The GMB union claimed that 336 of the care homes due to be taken back are owned by companies outside the UK, with 325 of them registered in tax havens.
Chief executive Jamie Buchan is to lead the restructuring and Southern Cross said he will work closely with all interested parties to ensure "that the welfare of residents and staff is maintained".