Inflation rose to a 17-month high in April driven by rising food costs and Budget duty hikes, official figures show today.

The official Consumer Prices Index (CPI) hit 3.7% last month, from 3.4% the month before, the highest since November 2008 and well ahead of the 3.5% expected by the City, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) says.

The annual rise in the cost of living triggers an open letter from Bank of England governor Mervyn King to new Chancellor George Osborne to explain why inflation remains above the Bank's 2% target.

The headline Retail Prices Index (RPI) also jumped from 4.4% in March to 5.3% the highest since July 1991 as mortgage interest payments edged higher last month, in contrast to a year earlier when lenders passed on rate cuts (see the Cheap Mortgage Finding guide).

Although the Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) expects inflation to ease back, the higher than expected figures could increase nerves among policymakers and shift them towards rate hikes to prevent the cost of living rising out of control.

Prices up

The inflation figures showed annual food inflation reaching 2.6% last month the highest since last July with broad-based price rises across meat, fruit and vegetables compared with falling costs a year ago.

Alcohol and cigarette duty hikes in March's Budget added to inflationary pressure, while clothing and footwear prices also rose by more than a year ago.

Food, drink and clothing added a combined 0.3 percentage points to the CPI, the ONS said, offsetting falling furniture costs.

The official figures also showed average petrol prices hitting 120.2p a litre last month the highest since records began in 1996 but the impact on inflation was limited, despite misery for motorists due to similar rises a year earlier.

The same factors influencing CPI were also behind the RPI rise, although the figures showed a 0.6% rise in mortgage interest payments compared to a 7.7% fall in April last year in the wake of the Bank of England cutting interest rates to a record low 0.5%.

Further reading/Key links

Best rates: Top Savings
Mortgage rate-busting: Cheap Mortgage Finding