Data for the third quarter from analysts Capita Registrars shows investors pocketed £20.1bn in dividends, a 15.9 per cent rise on the same period in 2010.
Forecasts for total dividends this year have been hiked to £67bn – 18 per cent up on 2010, as a result.
The figures have been fuelled by one-off factors including BP restoring its dividend. But even stripping those out, payments for the year are up 11 per cent.
Dividends in FTSE 100 companies are up 17 per cent, with FTSE 250 payouts rising by nine per cent.
It is the first time big-cap stocks exceeded the dividend growth of the mid-caps since the fourth quarter of 2009.
For the first nine months of 2011, the £55bn distributed to shareholders only just fell short of the total payout for the whole of 2010.
The research, carried out by Exchange Data International for Capita Registrars, found that all sectors increased their dividends in the third quarter.
Overall 228 companies paid a dividend compared with 201 last year. A total of 96 increased, reinstated or started paying dividends, while only 23 cut or cancelled them.
The arrival of commodities trader Glencore on the exchange after its float provided £224m in dividends for its shareholders. Other mining stocks paid an additional £200m between them, making the sector one of the top dividend payers.
Capita Registrars chief executive Charles Cryer said: “Dividends are growing faster than we expected as UK firms shrug off the worst stock market conditions since 2008 and continue to increase payouts to shareholders. In real terms they still have some way to go to top previous highs, however.”