BANK branch and cash machine closures mean that some Scots could face an “uphill battle” to be able to pay for essential goods and services, according to a consumer group.

Which? has called on the UK Government to appoint a regulator to protect access to cash for people who are affected.

It said that despite the increasing popularity of digital and card payments, which have proven vulnerable to a lengthy list of IT failures, more than 25 million people across the country regard having access to cash as a necessity.

Which? said it was concerned that cash machine and bank closures are leaving communities struggling to access the cash they rely on.

Since 2015, it said Scotland has seen 399 bank branches close, making it one of the worst affected areas in the whole of the UK. It added that these closures risked having an impact on businesses and communities alike.

The consumer group’s new campaign calls for the UK Government to appoint a regulator with sole responsibility for the country’s cash infrastructure.

READ MORE: ATM changes may 'devastate' Scots communities

Jenni Allen, managing director, 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.”

Which? also reported that 290 cashpoints have closed in a year, the majority of which were free-to-use.

The group conceded that while this might not seem a large number of closures compared to the 250 free-to-use machines closing across the UK every month, the impact of closures was felt harder in Scotland because of its rural communities, combined with an already devastated bank branch network.

Which? warned that the UK risked drifting into a cashless society, preventing people from paying for local goods and services, without urgent regulatory action to manage these changes.

Its analysis found leading banks suffer 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 prolonged issues at TSB, causing chaos for millions of customers.

A spokesperson for cash machine network Link said it agreed that free access to cash is vital for consumers.

They added: “As payment habits continue to change and more customers shop online or use contactless cards, 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. Link’s Financial Inclusion Programme is key to ensuring that the UK’s cash infrastructure continues to deliver free access to cash for consumers regardless of the marked decline in cash usage.”