Fleet MP James Arbuthnot has been touring post offices in the area to hear first hand the concerns of local postmasters.

This follows the government's initiative to get benefits and pensions paid directly into bank accounts rather than over the counter.

"My worst fears were confirmed," he said. "Not only do the postmasters expect to see their businesses suffer directly, but they also fear the knock-on effect on other sales as fewer people visit their stores.

"The government must do more to simplify the process for those who wish to be paid over the counter, and they must take action to ensure that this is not the final mail in the coffin of our post offices."

He added: "The village post office plays a crucial role in the life of all the villages I visited. We have lost too many in the past, and I am determined to do all I can to protect those we still have.

He said the government's plans would undermine the financial viability of many local post offices.