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Sweeping reforms planned for laws on adult social care

24 February 2010

The Law Commission is planning to sweep away more than 60 years of legislation on adult social care and replace it with a single, modern statute.

Frances Patterson QC, the Law Commissioner in charge of the rewrite, said the existing legal framework was “ineffective and wasteful of resources”.

She went on: “It is spread over 38 statutes, a mass of guidance and an even wider mass of regulations.

She said that social workers needed “extensive training” to understand the legal system, while ordinary people found it “inaccessible”.

Patterson said a “simple, clear and modern statute” would contain a statement of principles to aid decision making and a single duty on local authorities to undertake a community care assessment and a new duty to investigate where a vulnerable person might be at risk.

She estimated that changes in the law could save the taxpayer ten to 15m every year. Savings would come from reduced litigation costs, a drop in complaints both internally and to ombudsmen and less training for social workers.

The Law Commissioner said there was no connection between the current political debate over the funding of care for the elderly and the law reform process.

“All parties recognise that the state of the current law is such that it needs to be reformed,” she said.

“Whichever party is in power I suspect it will be keen to take reform of adult social care law forward.”

Patterson said the Law Society, MIND and the Department of Health all supported reform.

She said 1.77m people were currently receiving adult social care, a figure expected to double in the next 20 years.

The consultation on reform of the laws on adult social care closes on 1 July 2010.

Lord Justice Munby, chairman of the Law Commission, said the project was so large that a final report would not be published until the summer of 2011.

He said it would not accompanied by the usual draft bill, and it would be up to the government of the day to take the reforms forward.

Matthew Flinton, head of legal at Bupa Care Services, said: “The current system is confusing and complex, and we regularly see the problems people face as they battle to find the right services for their loved ones.

“Making the laws and regulations simpler will really help many families avoid unnecessary stress and expense.”

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Procedures Vulnerable Clients Local government