This article has been adapted from Fool U.K., our sister site across the pond.

The past year or so has been one of the best periods in recent memory for picking up high-dividend shares cheap.

Compared to an interest-bearing savings account, we can find good blue-chip companies offering around twice as much in dividends, and at low valuations that give us plenty of scope for some capital gains, too.

After all, we have Vodafone (NYSE: VOD) on a likely dividend of around 5.2% and Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B) offering about 5.7%. Both are well covered by earnings, and their P/Es are low. So it's got to be boot-filling time, hasn't it?

Well, some would argue that today's high dividends aren't sustainable, and that yields are looking good because they don't reflect the future cuts that they say are sure to come. And over the past few months, it looked as if the evidence might be supporting that bearish view, with actual dividend payments on U.K. shares having fallen for the past five quarters.

Rising, not falling
But, according to the latest report from the Capita Registrars Dividend Monitor, which covers all dividends paid in the U.K., dividends have returned to growth amidst the shoots of economic recovery and the firming up of company balance sheets -- and that's even after BP (NYSE: BP) ceased paying a dividend altogether in the aftermath of its Gulf of Mexico disaster.

In the three months ending September, total dividend payouts amounted to £17.6bn, against £17.3bn in the same quarter last year, with the full-year dividend forecast having been upped to £55.7bn -- a full £1bn more than last year. And companies raising their dividends are outnumbering companies cutting them by around 3 to 1.

If the BP effect were excluded, dividends would have risen 13% for the quarter, and would be on for 4% growth for the full year.

What is especially interesting for smaller cap investors is that FTSE 250 dividends have risen by 33%, although the actual amount, £1.4bn, is far lower than the FTSE-100 payout.

What does it mean?
Putting this all together, what we have are high dividend yields being paid by safer FTSE 100 companies, with the shares priced as if we're facing dividend downgrades. But the cash is starting to flow faster, and dividends are rising.

And that means shares are cheap. Fill your boots? I might have to buy a bigger pair.

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Fool U.K.'s Alan Oscroft does not own shares of any companies mentioned. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.