The British government has slashed its stake in Lloyds Banking Group to less than 6%, making US asset manager BlackRock the top shareholder in the bank.

The government said that the move helped it recover over £18bn since the bank's £20.3bn bailout. 

Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond said: “Confirmation that we are no longer the largest shareholder in the bank and that we’ve now recouped over £18 billion for UK taxpayers is further evidence that we are on track to recover all of the £20 billion injected into the bank during the financial crisis.”

Proceeds from the sales will be used to lower national debt, the government said in a statement.

 “Returning Lloyds to the private sector and recovering all of the cash the taxpayer injected into the bank during the financial crisis is a priority for the government,” Hammond added.

The government spent £20.3bn to buy a 43% stake in Lloyds during the 2007-09 financial crisis.

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UK Financial Investments, which manages the government's stake in Lloyds, stopped the process of share sales in the bank early last year due to market volatility and resumed the process in October.