Home care services are to be subject to inspection under a programme announced by the Care Quality Commission.
Reports will be produced on about 250 companies before the health watchdog publishes its verdict on the state of home care nationally.
The move by the CQC comes on the eve of the release of an Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) report into the home care system in England which is expected to be highly critical.
Inspections are set to begin next April. CQC inspectors will carry out the reviews alongside professional experts and those who have personal experience of using home care services.
CQC chief executive Cynthia Bower said: “Home care is one of the most difficult areas of care to monitor.
“Often the people who use home care services find themselves in vulnerable circumstances and the operation of home care is not as transparent as care in hospitals and other sectors because the interactions happen behind closed doors in people’s homes.
“That is why we want to focus on this sector of social care in this way.”
An advisory group is to be set up to assist the inspection process, with members from organisations including the EHRC, Age UK and the United Kingdom Homecare Association.
An EHRC spokesman said: “We believe this move by the CQC could be an important first step in addressing some of the concerns raised by our inquiry into home care, being published tomorrow.
“It reveals disturbing evidence that the poor treatment of many older people is threatening their human rights and concerns about how threats to these rights are detected. We look forward to being part of CQC’s advisory panel.”
Ms Bower said she shared the concerns highlighted by the EHRC, and added: “In this programme of reviews we will focus in part on dignity and respect, the safeguarding of people in vulnerable circumstances, and how well supported and trained home care staff are to undertake these most important care tasks.
“We have chosen these outcome areas as they are ‘gateway’ issues that lead us into examining a range of rights-based issues.”