CASH withdrawals have plummeted during the coronavirus crisis, potentially accelerating the closure of bank branches and ATMs.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) highlighted a shift towards contactless forms of payment during the pandemic. 

In a new blog post, it said cash withdrawals from ATMs in April 2020 dropped by almost 55 per cent compared to April 2019. 

It added: "However, even as the economy has begun to reopen, demand for cash withdrawals has remained considerably below the level of recent years. 

"From May to September cash withdrawals were down almost 35% compared to the same period in 2019. 

"By comparison, cash withdrawals in May to September 2019 were down just 8% compared to 2018."

The data was published by LINK, the UK’s cash machine network.

SPICe noted that card and digital payments are not an option for everyone. 

It quoted the final report of the Access to Cash Review, which found 17% of the UK population would struggle to cope in a cashless society..

It said: "LINK data shows that the number of ATMs in the UK peaked in 2015 at a little over 70,000, and by 2019 this had fallen to 60,662, a decrease of 14%. 

"In 2018, 82% of ATMs were free to use, but by 2019 this had fallen to 75%."

Meanwhile, the number of bank branches in Scotland has plummeted from more than 1,500 in 2010 to just 695 now. This is a fall of more than 50%.

Some areas have become "cash deserts".

The UK Government previously committed to bringing forward new legislation to protect access to cash.

SPICe said: "While the UK Government has not yet set out the details of what this legislation will do, like many other areas the need for action may be greater since the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The significant reduction in the use of note and coin will put greater pressure on the UK’s cash infrastructure and could well accelerate the closure of bank branches and ATMs, which will in turn make it more difficult for consumers who rely on physical currency to access their cash."