Leeds-based Help-Link plans to use technology to protect Britons from the winter chill

Richard Harrison'CEO, Help Link
Richard Harrison'CEO, Help Link
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A YORKSHIRE-based boiler installation company plans to use technology to protect millions of Britons from the winter chill.

Help-Link, which was recently acquired by global home repairs business HomeServe, aims to use technological advances to alert customers to boiler problems before the temperature drops in their home.

Richard Harrison, the chief executive of Leeds-based Help-Link, said the company hoped to achieve “exponential growth” as it provides installation services to HomeServe’s customer base of more than 2m people.

He told The Yorkshire Post: “We see an opportunity to develop some technology. We’re really interested in how the boilers are increasingly connected to the internet.

“We’re interested in bringing some technology expertise into our Leeds headquarters, where we can develop new thinking around how we can help customers with controlling heat in the home.

“We want to know something is going wrong before the customer does and warn them, so they minimise the time when their house is cold.

“We think that will change our relationship with our customers. Our customer relationship can be quite transactional; it can be once every 12 years that you change a boiler.

“We feel we can engage with our customers more frequently and they can understand how we work and what we can do for them. This technology will give them a closer relationship with the Help-Link brand and the company.”

In August, HomeServe entered into an agreement to acquire Help-Link UK to create a new UK-wide home heating business, bringing together installations, servicing and repairs.

Leeds-based Help-Link, which was founded in 1998, is a major player in the UK domestic boiler installation market. It has a national network of boiler installation engineers and an in-home sales force. It also offers boiler service and repair membership products and, at the time of the acquisition, had around 17,000 customers.

Help-Link had been in a turnaround process in the two years leading up to the sale, following changes to the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) market for subsidised boiler installations, which was designed to reduce fuel poverty.

There had been a significant drop in the company’s installation volumes.

For the year ended March 31 2016, Help-Link’s audited accounts showed revenues of £30.9m, an EBITDA (earnings before interest taxation depreciation and amortisation) loss before exceptional items of £9.7m and a loss before tax of £15.3m, with gross assets of £3.5m.

In the year to March 31 2017, the unaudited results showed the EBITDA loss reducing to £3.8m. In the current year to March 31 2018, Help-Link expects EBITDA to be marginally positive. The company had been backed by NorthEdge Capital before the sale to HomeServe.

Mr Harrison said the firm, which has around 150 staff in its Leeds support centre and 250 sales staff and engineers around the country, planned to keep expanding.

He added: “There are lots of opportunities. We have already recruited another 40 people in Leeds for winter. A number of those have come out of Leeds University.”

Mr Harrison said that the vote in favour of Brexit has had an impact on the company’s markets.

He added: “One of them will be the import of product. The cost of parts changes, especially since those currency fluctations over the last 12 months. The second impact is on inflation; inflation doesn’t help anybody and always makes consumers feel careful about where they are spending their money. That doesn’t change my optimism about the future, but it does make me think about what my strategy might be.”

HomeServe signed a deal to acquire Help-Link UK in August, which valued the Help-Link business at up to £22.7m.

At the time of the sale, Mr Harrison said: “After a relentless, but successful two years where we have improved and re-engineered our business, we are looking forward to becoming part of HomeServe’s rapid growth story.

“My management team have worked tirelessly to build a market-leading company that is now a valuable addition to the HomeServe proposition. “HomeServe has demonstrated strong growth in the UK market and is already starting to build momentum overseas, in countries including North America, France and Spain.”