British consumer confidence unexpectedly improved in August for the first time since February thanks to a more positive view on the economic outlook, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The GfK/NOP consumer confidence barometer rose to -18 this month from -22 in July, confounding analysts' expectations for a further deterioration to -24.

The prospect of severe government spending cuts and uncertainty over the economic recovery has weighed heavily on the consumer mood for much of this year, and the survey's compilers said the August boost should be treated with caution.

This gain merely reverses a similarly large drop in July, and in reality confidence in the economy's future prospects remains below its June level and similar to May 2009 when we were still in the grips of a recession, said Nick Moon at GfK NOP social research.

There are concerns that the global economic recovery is slowing -- an outcome that would in turn hurt Britain's own efforts to recuperate from an 18-month recession.

Nonetheless, the survey showed perceptions of the economic situation over the next 12 months rose by 11 points to -14.

Shoppers remain reluctant to splash out on big-ticket items, however. The survey's major purchases climate gauge fell to -20 in August from -16 in July.