A regulator who will protect access to cash is needed as Scots consumers face the double blow of ATMs and banks closing at an "alarming" rate, according to Which?

The consumer group said figures show that the UK has seen cashpoints disappeared at a rate of 488 per month between June and December last year - with over 250 free-to-use machines also closing monthly.

Meanwhile, 290 cashpoints have closed in Scotland in 2018, the majority of which were free-to-use machines (204).

Scotland has seen 399 bank branches close since 2015, making it one of the worst affected areas in the UK.

It said it is also concerned about bank closures leaving communities struggling, with 3,300 UK branches closing their doors since 2015.

The call for a regulator, supported by the Federation of Small Businesses, would mean new powers to prevent closures of banks or cashpoints when they have an impact on a local community. There would also be powers to ensure a cash machine remains open in areas where a bank branch has shut.

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Jenni Allen, managing director of Which? Money, said: “We have serious concerns that the alarming rate of cashpoint and bank branch closures risks leaving people in Scotland facing an uphill battle to access the cash they rely on.

“Cash is also a vital backup as fallible digital payments grow in popularity - so the UK Government must appoint a regulator to oversee these changes and ensure no-one is excluded and left struggling to go about their daily lives.”

FSB national chairman Mike Cherry said: “With our cash infrastructure increasingly under attack, it’s time for a regulator to be given explicit responsibility for protecting access to notes and coins. Otherwise we risk drifting into a cashless environment that we’re simply not ready for yet.”

It comes as the Herald revealed last month that Scotland is losing cash machines at a rate of more than 40 a month in raising concerns on how people access their money while the nation suffers a raft of bank branch closures.

Figures from LINK, the UK’s largest cash machine network showed that in November there were 6037 of their cashpoints in Scotland - 330 fewer than in March.

And the number of free to use cashpoints has also dropped by nearly 200 over the eight months to 5,198.

New Link data on cashpoint withdrawals also suggests that many parts of the UK are making the move away from cash more quickly than Scots.

Scotland saw a drop of just 3.3 per cent, while withdrawals in London and the South East fell by 8.5 per cent and 7.7 per cent respectively in 2017-18.

Which? says this demonstrates why changes in consumer behaviour “must be carefully monitored” across the UK.

The consumer organisation said that while digital payments are on the rise in the UK, nearly three in four of the population still uses cash frequently to pay for goods and services.

Over half (57%) of consumers say they had recently experienced a situation in which they could only pay by cash.

Which? said: “Despite the increased popularity of digital and card payments - which have proven vulnerable to IT failures - having access to cash is still a necessity for more than 25 million people across the country.

“Cashpoint closures are harder felt in Scotland due to its many rural communities, combined with an already devastated bank branch network.

“Which? is warning that the UK risks drifting into a cashless society that could shut people out of paying for local goods and services, without urgent regulatory action to manage these changes and intervene when necessary to protect this payment method.”

Recent analysis has found that leading banks are suffering at least one major security or IT glitch per week - with outages of Visa payments and IT failures across a vast number of UK banks, including the prolonged issues at TSB, which have caused chaos for millions of customers.

Which? said it was concerned that people will be left vulnerable without a non-digital payment alternative as access to cash declines across the UK.

Previous Which? research has revealed the UK has lost two thirds of its branch network in the last 30 years, leaving one in five households more than three kilometres from their nearest bank.

FSB said that a new regulator could be a wing of existing financial watchdogs including the Payment Systems Regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority or the Bank of England.