Excluding fuel, the ONS numbers show the total value of sales (not seasonally adjusted) was 4.1 per cent in February compared with a year ago. In January the growth rate was revised up to 1.8 per cent.
This is a broadly similar trend to the British Retail Consortium’s own figures, released on 5 March.
The growth was driven by spending on non-food items, including big-ticket items which many people have been cautious about buying for a long time.
In garden centres, GCA figures show February at 6.8 per cent up, with the year 0.14 per cent down by the end of February compared to 2012. March sales have struggled as poor weather has persisted nationwide.
British Retail Consortium Director General Helen Dickinson, said: "There are some reassuring signs here that people are starting to feel a little more positive, but it’s too early to gauge whether this is a temporary upturn or if we’re on the cusp of more secure and lasting revival.
"The Budget brought some good news for consumers which should help to lift the mood further and build on this boost to spending power, but it was disappointing that direct help for high streets barely had a look-in. This gradual growth certainly can’t be taken for granted, as the mixed picture of the last few months confirms that the path to recovery remains a fragile one."