The Government was urged today to impose a legal duty on local authorities to assess the social care needs of elderly and disabled people.
The Law Commission, which advises ministers on legal reform, said that laws covering the provision of adult social care are outdated and in need of a radical shake-up.
It called for the legal framework - spread across 38 separate Acts of Parliament dating back more than 60 years - to be replaced by a "single, clear and modern statute".
The commission said it is not seeking to create new entitlements to care but is seeking to clarify existing rights.
It did not go into the contentious issue of how future care provision should be funded - currently the subject of an acrimonious political debate between the main parties.
Instead, in a series of provisional recommendations, it said there should be new legislation to establish a core set of overarching principles to guide social care decisions.
These should include an explicit duty to assess the care needs of individuals with a requirement for local authorities to provide community services for all those who are eligible.
It also called for the establishment of a duty to assess the needs of carers who look after loved ones or family members in the home, and a statutory obligation for local authorities to investigate if they suspect vulnerable adults are being abused or neglected.
Frances Patterson QC, who led the project, said the proposals are intended to ensure that people in need of care and those working in the system are clear about the individual's rights to services.
"It is unacceptable that people should have to look at more than 38 Acts of Parliament, plus thousands of pages of guidance, to work out what the system is for delivering these essential services," she said.
"We are seeking to bring clarity to the system of social care. We are not seeking to change existing entitlements. A clear, modern statute will save time and money wasted on operating the current time-expired system.
Shadow health minister Stephen O'Brien said: "Carers play a vital role in our communities and help support some of the most vulnerable people in society - often on a full-time basis. Conservatives want to support carers where they need it most - in the workplace, in the home and through our NHS and social services.
"By giving carers better access to flexible working arrangements, by proposing planned respite care - not just emergency respite care - and by offering individual tailor-made budgets for those under their care, Conservatives hope to lead the way in recognising and supporting the dedication and hard work of the nation's 5.4 million carers.
"Bringing together the many diverse pieces of legislation in this area will help strengthen social care across the country. It is disappointing that Labour have legislated so haphazardly with so little coherence."
Care services minister Phil Hope said: "This is an excellent opportunity to review the existing legal framework and consider replacing it with a modern social care statute, fit for the 21st century.
"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.