Unmarried couples, including gay partners without a civil partnership, who live together, may be given the right to each other’s wealth after a break up, according to plans produced today.

The Law Commission, an independent legislation watchdog, has published a consultation document to define improvements to the rights of unmarried cohabiting couples after a rise in cases is expected from two to four million in the next 25 years.

It concentrates on issues of property and inheritance as well as payments for children and financial rights akin to divorcees but less generous.

Mary Creagh, Labour MP for Wakefield, told the Guardian, “I am delighted the Law Commission has recognised the need for some legal protection and fairness for unmarried couples. We are not talking about partners claiming massive amounts of money when they separate.

“But these proposals will provide a safety net so that one partner is not left destitute after a long-term relationship. People just don’t realise that, legally, there is no such thing as a ‘common law marriage’. There are 2 million unmarried couples living together in the UK. The law must catch up to give them protection.”

The proposal is likely to be criticised by Christian groups for lowering the sanctity of marriage.

A draft bill is expected next year.