Almost half of the UK’s bank branches have been lost, or scheduled for closure, since 2015, putting vulnerable customers at risk of being “cut adrift”, according to figures put together by a consumer group.

Analysis carried out by Which? for the news agency PA found that 4,735 branches have been shut or earmarked for closure over the past six years. The figure is equal to 48% of the network as it stood in January 2015.

Many of the big banks have been cutting their branch networks in recent years, claiming customers are spurning traditional counter service in favour of banking online and via mobile phones.

Some have said the Covid pandemic has accelerated this shift to digital banking, and recent months have seen a spate of announcements of closures.

In October, Lloyds Banking Group said it would close 41 Lloyds Bank and seven Halifax branches across England and Wales between January and April 2022. That came on top of 100 closures earlier in the year.

Several weeks later TSB announced it was closing 70 branches – a quarter of its network, meaning it had more than halved the number of outlets it had over less than two years.

Jenny Ross, Which? Money editor, said: “Wave after wave of bank branch closures in recent years have left many people who depend on them for essential banking services – particularly the elderly and vulnerable – at risk of being cut adrift.

“Recent proposals put forward to help secure the future of cash are very promising, but we will be watching closely to see if they are preventing further communities from losing cash access and vital banking services.”

Although the pandemic has hastened the move from cash to contactless payments, figures published earlier this year showed that in 2020 there were still 1.2 million people in the UK who relied on coins and notes for their day-to-day spending.

The government has said it will legislate to protect the future of cash, and has introduced cashback without a purchase in shops to enable people to access their money without a bank branch or ATM.

In December several major banks announced an initiative to share services, and there are plans to extend a pilot scheme in which Post Offices hosted bank staff and offered counter services to individuals and businesses.

Natalie Ceeney, chair of Cash Action Group, said there were still millions of people for whom the decision to close a bank branch was really disruptive.

“That’s not only vulnerable people who may be on low incomes or have a disability, but small businesses, whose customers pay in cash and can no longer deposit their takings at the branch that was once across the high street,” she said.

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UK bank branch numbers have almost halved since 2015, analysis finds

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