Record quarter for dividends after Vodafone and Cairn pay out

Shareholder payouts by UK companies soared 25 per cent in the first three months of the year, making it a record quarter for dividends.

But the £18.8bn total was boosted by a number of large one-off payouts, including £2.2bn made by both Vodafone and Cairn Energy. The special dividend trend of 2011 is likely to play an even bigger part this year, encouraging analysts to up the full-year forecast to £76.3bn.

In total British firms paid out £3.8bn more than the same period in 2011, but the headline figures cover up signs of weakness, according to the latest Dividend Monitor from Capita Registrars.

Underlying dividend growth was just 6.6 per cent year-on-year, below Capita's forecast and much slower than the underlying 12.8 per cent increase in 2011.

Charles Cryer, chief executiveof Capita, said: "The picture is more complex than the headlines suggest."

Some 159 companies paid a dividend in the first quarter, two more than the same period in 2011.