Health and social care sectors spent almost £70 million vetting their staff last year, figures show.
Campaigners said the need for carers working with vulnerable adults to get Criminal Records Bureau (CRB) checks was wasting millions of pounds which instead could be spent on delivering better public services.
The government launched a review of the criminal records regime and the process of vetting adults who work with vulnerable adults and children last week, saying the current procedures were “not a proportionate response”.
Home secretary Theresa May has called for a return to a more “common sense” approach.
Ken McLaughlin, co-author of the report Carers or Suspects?, said: “Official policy vastly overstates the vulnerability of adults receiving health or social care.
“This is just a licence for the state to interfere in caring relationships.”
Co-author Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club which campaigns against the hyper-regulation of everyday life, added: “This fantastically expensive system is of no obvious public benefit.
“As well as wasting public money, over-cautious rules mean that carers cannot do their jobs in the way they want to - for example, they can’t be alone with an elderly person in a car, or can’t help an old lady to the toilet.
“Such rules do more harm than good and should be scrapped.”
The total cost for CRB checks for those working with vulnerable adults has reached £164.7 million since 2004, including £69 million in 2009/10 alone, the report found.
Care services minister Paul Burstow has said that no-one can “subcontract responsibility for protecting at-risk people”.