Nearly half of banks in Preseli Pembrokeshire have closed since 2015, new figures show.

Analysis from consumer champion Which? has shown a sharp decline in the number of bank branches open in areas across much of the UK compared to seven years ago.

According to figures up to the end of April, eight banks have been shuttered in Preseli Pembrokeshire since the start of 2015, leaving nine remaining in the area.

Separate figures from the LINK cash machine network show there has also been a decline in the number of free-to-use ATMs in Pembrokeshire in recent years.

Their data shows that between the start of 2018 and early March this year, the number of ATMs in Preseli Pembrokeshire dropped from 57 to 43.

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

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.”

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

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.”

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%) of bank branches across the UK have closed since the start of 2015.

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.

RSA researcher Mark Hall said: “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.”