This compared with a jobless rate of 6.3 per cent at the end of December. The rise, still the second biggest increase since 1981, compared with an additional 244,000 unemployed in the previous three-month period.
A reduction in the rate of increase of the number of people claiming jobless benefits gave further hope that the rate of deterioration in the labour market was slowing down.
The claimant count rose by 39,300 in May, compared with a revised increase of 49,600 in April. The increase was the lowest since last July.
But 302,000 people were made redundant in the three months to April, the highest figure since comparable records began in 1995. Redundancies were highest in distribution, hotels and restaurants, followed by manufacturing.
Younger workers continued to bear the brunt of falling employment levels. The number of 18-24-year-olds in employment was 6.1 per cent, or 119,000 lower in the three months to April than a year ago, compared with 2 per cent drop for all adults.
Total employment was 73.3 per cent of working age adults in the three months to April, down 0.8 percentage points on the previous period. That represented a fall of 271,000, the largest quarterly decline since records began in 1971.
The West Midlands saw the biggest increase in unemployment, which rose 2.8 per cent to a level of 9.3 per cent in the three months to April compared with the previous year. Yorkshire and the Humber, with a 2.6 per cent increase to a level of 8 per cent, was the second highest, followed by Wales with a 2.4 per cent increase to 7.6 per cent.
The number of vacancies was down 38,000 at 444,000 in the three months to May, the lowest since records began in 2001.
Average earnings, excluding bonuses, increased by 2.7 per cent in the three-month to April compared with the previous year, a slight reduction from a 3 per cent increase in the previous period.
Average earnings including bonuses rose by 0.8 per cent compared with a 0.3 per cent fall in the previous period. The rise was explained by higher bonuses in the financial sector in April, and by earnings increases in hotels and restaurants.