An overhaul of the laws that govern the social care provided to disabled and older people has been described as the most radical shake-up of the legislation for more than 60 years.
The Law Commission, which advises the government on law reform, has set out draft plans to replace 38 different laws and thousands of pages of guidance with “a single, clear and modern statute”.
The commission said the current system caused red tape, confusion and inconsistency and led to wasteful legal action.
The new act – which would probably cover both England and Wales – would include a “single and explicit” duty to assess needs; a legal duty on all local authorities to provide services for those who meet eligibility criteria; and a statutory duty on councils to investigate cases where they suspected an adult with social care needs was at risk of significant harm.
The plans also propose a “low” threshold for qualifying for an assessment and direct payments to be extended to cover residential accommodation.
There would also be a set of “overarching principles” to guide social care decisions.
These principles could include stating that councils should “maximise the choice and control of service-users”, with another based on “the concept of independent living”.
Frances Patterson QC, the commissioner leading the project, said the proposals would “bring clarity to the system” rather than changing “existing entitlements” to support.
Caroline Ellis, joint deputy chief executive of RADAR, welcomed the review and called on the commission to “draw heavily” on Lord [Jack] Ashley’s independent living bill.
She said Lord Ashley’s bill was rooted in disabled people’s human rights and showed how to create a “coherent, cost effective and principled” legal framework that would “boost participation and work for disabled people of all ages”.
Phil Hope, the care services minister, said the consultation was “an excellent opportunity to review the existing legal framework and consider replacing it with a modern social care statute, fit for the 21st century”.
He added: “This independent review goes hand in hand with our plans to reform the care and support system which will create a fairer, simpler and more affordable system for everyone.”
The review does not examine the heated issue of funding, which will be the subject of a government white paper this spring.
A consultation on the plans closes on 1 July. For more information, visit www.lawcom.gov.uk
25 February 2010