Inflation has surged to its highest level for three and a half years adding to fears of a squeeze on households as wage growth stalls.
Higher food and fuel prices lifted the Consumer Price Index measure of inflation to 2.3% in February, up from 1.8% the month before - a much sharper uptick than expected.
It means the rise in the cost of living is catching up with the rate of regular pay growth, which also stood at 2.3% in the latest available official data, covering the three months to January.
The increase also spells more difficulty for savers as the value of their nest eggs is further eroded amid record low interest rates.
Higher inflation is partly the result of the collapse in the value of the pound since the Brexit vote, which has pushed import costs higher.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) showed food was becoming more expensive again - up 0.3% on the same month last year - after 31 months in a row of deflation amid a supermarket price war.
Further increases in fuel prices also contributed to higher inflation, the ONS said.
Inflation was at the highest rate since September 2013. Economists had expected a rate of 2.1%.
It was the first time CPI has gone above the Bank of England's 2% target since November 2013.
Sterling rose by a cent to nearly $1.25 on the figures, which will add pressure on the Bank of England to consider how much longer it can continue its current ultra-low interest rate policy.
A separate measure of inflation called CPIH, which includes housing costs and is now the preferred ONS headline measure, also climbed to 2.3%.
The Bank of England expects CPI inflation - its preferred measure - to climb to about 2.8% this year, though a number of economists expect it will be higher.
James Smith, an economist at ING Bank, said: "With rising food and fuel prices set to push inflation above 3% by the end of the year, 2017 looks set to be an increasingly tough year for households."