Call to revamp 'outdated and flawed' social care laws
A major revamp of adult social care law in England and Wales is needed to ensure fairer access to services, the Law Commission says.
The government advisory body said the current framework, covered by more than 40 laws, was "outdated and flawed".
Instead, it said there should be a single piece of legislation so people were clear about their rights.
The report is the first of two reviews ministers will use to reform social care in England in the coming years.
An independent commission has also been set up to look at how social care - which is currently means tested - should be funded.
It is due to report in July and will be followed by a white paper at the end of this year and legislation in 2012.
Wales is looking at its social care provision separately.
There is almost universal agreement that social care needs reforming, as councils struggle to meet rising demand because of the ageing population amid cuts in funding.
Frances Patterson QC, the law commissioner leading the review, said she wanted existing laws and regulations "swept away" and replaced by a single adult social care statute.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Our role is to produce a clear, consistent and comprehensive legal framework to reform the way adult social care is delivered across the country."
She said the Law Commission also wanted to introduce a code of practice which local authorities would be required to follow "unless there was good reason not to".
It would be down to individuals to enforce their rights through the courts if they felt their care was insufficient, she added.
The Law Commission report has been widely welcomed by charities, who say it provides a good blueprint for reform of the system.
Michelle Mitchell, of the charity Age UK, described the recommendations as a "one-off opportunity to replace this dog's breakfast with a clear, logical and consistent framework".
Social care law has developed "piecemeal" since the National Assistance Act in 1948, the Law Commission said. There are now over 40 separate laws and thousands of pages of guidance.
This has resulted in a system that is confusing for users, and at times contradictory, the report said.
For example, people with conditions that vary over time such as bi-polar disorder or dementia can, in theory, be excluded from care.
And while there is no law placing a duty on councils to support elderly people, they do have legal obligations to look after those with disabilities and mental health problems.
The recommendations call for a duty for councils to assess the needs of carers, and say the NHS and local government should work together more closely.
Care services minister Paul Burstow said the recommendations would be carefully looked at.
He added: "This report provides foundation for the most significant single reform of social care law in 60 years."