Lawyers have called for a rethink on whiplash injury compensation after the government’s own figures showed that the number of claims fell by almost 24,000 last year.

Records uncovered by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) showed 547,405 claims for whiplash in 2011/12, compared with 571,111 in the previous year, a fall of 4.2%. APIL has also released the results of an independent survey, commissioned by the group, which show almost 40% of people with a whiplash injury have never claimed compensation for it.

The research appears as the government is expected to announce plans for new specialist medical panels to support improvements in the diagnosis of whiplash, and to increase from £1,000 to £5,000 the value up to which claims can be handled by the small claims court.

Karl Tonks, president of APIL, said it was time to ‘inject some sanity’ into the debate. ‘The government appears to have been persuaded by the insurance industry that the answer to rising car insurance premiums lies in tackling whiplash claims, but the government’s own figures show there has been a drop in these claims in the last year,’ he said.

‘Before the government embarks on a potentially damaging reform agenda, it’s critical that ministers have a clear picture about whiplash, and that they recognise that most injured people are genuine and therefore have every right to expect proper access to justice when they need it.’

According to a poll carried out amongst 4,000 members of the public by market researcher Canadean, one in 100 people have suffered a whiplash injury in the past year. One in five have suffered symptoms for more than a year, whilst almost 30% of those who suffered an injury were encouraged to claim compensation by insurance companies.

‘Instead of pointing the finger at everyone else, insurers really need to stop and look in the mirror,’ said Tonks. ‘They need to stop paying compensation without even asking for a medical report. And they need to start sharing the information they hold about fraudsters to help claimant lawyers identify them early in the process.’