Public borrowing measures, meanwhile, were lower than a year ago but still the revealed the uphill task the government has to face to bring down a 2009/10's record budget deficit.
The Office for National Statistics said British retail sales rose 1.1 per cent in July, the strongest gain since February.
Analysts had forecast a rise of 0.4 per cent on the month.
On the year, sales were up 1.3 per cent versus forecasts for an annual rise of 0.6 per cent.
Excluding fuel, retail sales rose 0.9 per cent on the month and were up 2.4 per cent on the year.
The ONS said the gains on the month were driven by particularly strong rises in the 'other stores' and 'non-store retailing' categories.
The former, which includes jewellers and sports good stores, rose by 6.1 per cent on the month.
The government's preferred measure on which fiscal forecasts are based, excluding financial sector interventions, came in at £3.8bn.
Richard Lowe, Head of Retail and Wholesale at Barclays Corporate said:
“Despite a strong month for sales volumes, retail sales remain broadly unchanged compared to the end of last year. Consumer confidence has weakened in recent months and this dip in confidence continues to weigh on High Street sales figures.
"I can't remember a summer when retailers have been so quiet. They are usually out commenting on sales of seasonal favourites such as ice-cream and barbeque weekends but this just hasn’t been happening."