The widespread closure of bank branches and free ATMs across Scotland is leaving some communities struggling to access cash, a consumer group has warned.
In the past four years 339 bank branches in Scotland have closed their doors, making the country one of the worst affected parts of the UK, research by Which? found.
A further 290 cash machines have also been withdrawn from use north of the Border in the last year, of which more than two-thirds were free for customers to use.
The consumer group warned that the UK was “drifting into a cashless society” without considering the consequences, with some communities that still relied on cash being shut out.
It said the closure of cash machines was often felt more keenly in Scotland, especially in rural communities which had already been “devastated” by the loss of local bank branches. While consumers are increasingly using contactless technology, it said cash was still a “vital backup as fallible digital payments grow in popularity” and was particularly important in more remote areas.
In Scotland, withdrawals from cash machines were down just 3.3 per cent in 2017-18 compared to larger drops of 8.5 per cent and 7.7 per cent in London and the south east of England respectively.
The UK needs to work out how to maintain cash access, including from ATMs and also from other outlets such as the Post Office and from retailers’ tillsLINK SPOKESMAN
Which? is calling for the UK government to appoint an independent regulator to protect people’s access to cash and “ensure no-one is excluded and left struggling to go about their daily lives”.
A spokesman for cash machine network Link said it agreed that free access to cash was still “vital” for consumers despite the rise of contactless payments and online shopping. “The UK needs to work out how to maintain cash access, including from ATMs and also from other outlets such as the Post Office and from retailers’ tills,” he added.
In December, a UK-wide review into accessing cash found that 47 per cent of the population would find living without it “problematic”, while for 17 per cent it would be “near impossible”.
Scottish business minister Jamie Hepburn said: “We support calls to protect the ATM network, especially in rural communities and areas already affected by previous and proposed bank branch closures, where ATMs provide a life-line service to consumers and small businesses.”
Ged Killen, the Scottish Labour MP who has introduced a private member’s bill seeking to ban ATM charges, said ministers had not done enough.