TWO-THIRDS of banks in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency area have closed since 2015, new figures show.

Analysis from consumer champion Which? has shown a steep decline in the number of branches across the UK compared to seven years ago.

According to figures up to the end of April, 12 banks have been shuttered in Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath since the start of 2015, leaving six remaining in the area.

And separate figures from LINK, the cash machine network, show there has also been a sharp drop in the number of free-to-use ATMs across the UK.

Which? chief executive, Anabel Hoult, said: “While the pandemic has accelerated the move to digital payments for many consumers, many are not yet ready to make that switch and require protection from an avalanche of ATM and bank branch closures that have left the UK’s cash system at risk of collapse.”

The last few years have seen a string of bank closures in this area.

The Royal Bank of Scotland moved out of Cowdenbeath in 2017, the TSB followed in April 2021.

At that time a spokesperson said customers could do their banking at post offices instead.

The only bank left in Cowdenbeath is the Bank of Scotland.

The RBS was the last bank in Lochgelly until it left in 2018. The Bank of Scotland and TSB had already departed.

The TSB also closed its branch in Cardenden.

The RBS in Kelty – the last bank in the town – closed in 2015.

Between January 2018 and March 2022, the number of ATMs in the Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency dropped from 101 to 72.

The increasing use of online banking and contactless payments have led to concerns some will be left behind, or unable to access key services.

A bill to protect access to cash was announced as part of the Queen’s Speech in May.

The Treasury says the new legislation will ensure “continued access to withdrawal and deposit facilities across the UK”.

Economic secretary to the Treasury, John Glen, said: “We know that access to cash is still vital for many people, especially those in vulnerable groups.

“We promised we would protect it and through this bill we are delivering on that promise.”

Full details on what will be included are yet to be published.

Which? welcomed the bill but said it “must ensure that clear requirements are placed on industry to meet communities’ need for cash”.

Its data found that nearly half (48 per cent) of bank branches across the UK have closed since the start of 2015, and seven constituencies have seen every one of their bank branches closed in recent years.

LINK says that over 13,500 free-to-use ATMs have been cut from the UK’s network – a quarter of the 54,500 in operation at the start of 2018.

Recent research by the Royal Society of Arts estimates 10 million people in the UK would struggle in a cashless society.

It suggests the elderly and those in areas with poor mobile or broadband connectivity have suffered most in the move to digital banking.

RSA researcher Mark Hall said: “For millions of people, their relationship with cash is critical to the way they manage their weekly budget.

“It’s vital that the dash to digital doesn’t disenfranchise anyone, especially with the cost-of-living crisis putting such significant strain on family finances right now.”