UK inflation fell back by more than expected last month to the lowest level in more than two years as the growth in food prices eased for cash-strapped households, official figures have shown.

The latest data shows annual food price inflation fell back to five per cent in February, down from seven per cent the previous month.

On a monthly basis, food inflation lifted by 0.2 per cent – far lower than the steep rises seen a year earlier.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that Consumer Prices Index inflation stood at 3.4 per cent in February – down from four per cent in January and the lowest level since September 2021.

Most economists had been expecting inflation at 3.5 per cent last month.

Inflation is now closer towards the Bank of England’s two per cent target and comes ahead of the latest interest rate decision on Thursday.

Policymakers are widely expected to keep rates on hold at 5.25 per cent, but the steep fall in the CPI is likely to reinforce expectations that the Bank is moving closer to cutting rates later this year.

Grant Fitzner, chief economist at the ONS, said: “Inflation eased in February to its lowest rate for nearly two-and-a-half years.  

“Food prices were the main driver of the fall, with prices almost unchanged this year compared with a large rise last year, while restaurant and café price rises also slowed. 

“These falls were only partially offset by price rises at the pump and a further increase in rental costs.” 

The data shows inflation finally resuming its retreat, having unexpectedly lifted in December and then remaining unchanged in January.

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the inflation fall “sets the scene for better economic conditions”.

He said: “Inflation has not just fallen decisively but is forecast to hit the two per cent target within months. 

“This sets the scene for better economic conditions which could allow further progress on our ambition to boost growth and make work pay by bringing down national insurance as we work towards abolishing the double tax on work.”