HALF a million Scots could struggle to access cash due to the unprecedented rate of bank closures, MPs have warned.

Scotland has the highest percentage loss of bank branches across the UK, with 53 per cent closing since 2015, the Scottish Affairs Committee’s Access to Cash in Scotland report found.

The committee, chaired by SNP MP Pete Wishart, is urging the UK Government to offer support to those who are struggling to transition to the increasing digitisation of banks.

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While many people now have access to online banking, it is estimated around 500,000 Scots rely on cash due to difficulties adapting to digital payments or for budgeting purposes.

Plans to introduce a Financial Services and Markets Bill, which includes added protections on access to cash, has been welcomed by the committee.

However, Mr Wishart said urgent action is needed as fears grow that banks are rushing to close branches before the legislation comes into force.

He said: “Access to cash across Scotland has been decimated in recent years, leading to Westminster committees investigating the issue multiple times.

“While the move to digital banking and payments has offered a method at which to do transactions that many of us enjoy, we cannot forget the 500,000 people in Scotland who rely on cash in their day-to-day lives.

“With the cost-of-living crisis deepening, many people are using cash for budgeting.

“But what is deeply worrying is that bank branches are closing at a record rate with very limited research or thought conducted of the possible widespread implications.”

The report also urges the UK Government to support free access to cash through free-to-use ATMs in the most rural and deprived areas of the UK. It is currently provided by voluntary organisations such as Link’s Financial Inclusion Programme.

Mr Wishart added: “We are aware of the commercial considerations affecting banks, which has played a role in the recent increase of branch closures.

“We welcome the effort taken by the banking industry to protect access to cash, although we still feel that there is a clear need for legislation.

“In our report today, we are calling for more research into the implications of a cashless society and more secure and longer term agreements to ensure the continued access to cash.

“The Government appears to be in listening mode on this issue, and I look forward to its response in due course.”

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A final recommendation includes asking for a long-term commitment from banks to maintain appropriate services for customers using the Post Office network as Scotland faces a growing number of closures.

Previous analyses by trade bodies have shown that cash is now used in fewer than a fifth of UK transactions, compared to 45% of payments in 2015.

Meanwhile, contactless card payments - which became increasingly popular during the pandemic, and can now be used for payments up to £100 - now account for more than a quarter of all UK transactions, compared to 7% in 2016.

This has led to warnings that cashless payments are “creeping into the wider economy” and could make it difficult for some people to buy food or pay for electricity.

A Treasury spokesman said: “We recognise that cash is a vital for millions of people across the UK.

“That’s why we are legislating to ensure people will continue to be able to access cash, and have already legislated to enable shops to offer cashback to customers, regardless of whether they make a purchase.”