Thousands of cash machines were put out of action during the first national lockdowns between March and May last year, with virtually none being replaced, according to new data.
Separately, analysts found that from the first national lockdown in March 2020 until the end of restrictions in July 2021 there were 801 bank branch closures, with another 103 set to close their doors by the end of the year.
The ATM analysis from Which? found there are large variations in the proportion of cash machines that charge for withdrawals across the UK.
Researchers discovered the number of cash machines charging users to get their money varies according to region.
For example, in the West Midlands 28% of machines charge users, compared with 19% in the South East.
It follows a new survey by the group that found 57% of people have experienced one or more issues using cash machines or finding a high street bank.
These stark figures show the extent of the damage caused by the pandemic to the already fragile cash system, and demonstrate the consequences that this is having on consumers who are trying to withdraw cash
Gareth Shaw, Which?
Over the last 12 months, one in four experienced at least one cashpoint issue, including 17% who said the ATM they used had run out of cash or not been working when needed.
A further one in eight said a cashpoint they used had been removed or introduced charges.
Bank branch issues affected around 43% of those surveyed, including closures or reduced opening hours.
Several high street banks have announced closures in the past year across the country, with bosses pointing to huge increases in online transactions and services.
But consumer groups fear older households or those without internet access will struggle with their finances without access to in-person support.
Which? said the Government must do more to protect consumers who are reliant on cash and most at risk from closures, and asked when new rules being proposed by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to ensure cash withdrawals can be made locally will be turned into law.
Gareth Shaw, Which? head of money, said: “These stark figures show the extent of the damage caused by the pandemic to the already fragile cash system, and demonstrate the consequences that this is having on consumers who are trying to withdraw cash.
“While many people can now bank digitally, millions of people are not yet ready or able to do so. It is consumers who are looking to withdraw and spend cash in nearby shops or the high street who will be hardest hit if they are left without a way to access it locally.
“This should serve as a wake-up call to the Government and the FCA. The cash system is continuing to crumble and legislation on safeguarding access to cash must be introduced swiftly.”
A Treasury spokesperson said: “We’ve committed to legislate to protect access to cash across the UK and we’re currently consulting on proposals for new laws to make sure people only need to travel a reasonable distance to pay in or take out cash.”