Peer-to-peer lending companies lent more than £2.2bn last year, new figures have revealed.

The industry has now lent a total of £4.4bn, doubling in size since the end of 2014.

Members of the Peer-to-Peer Finance Association (P2PFA) – which includes the UK’s eight biggest lenders including Zopa, Funding Circle and RateSetter – lent £660m in the last three months of 2015 alone.

Peer-to-peer financing sees cash put up by lenders matched to individuals and small businesses in need of loans.

Funding Circle said peer-to-peer lending is creating new opportunities for small businesses

The number of lenders increased by 22% in 2015 and now stands at more than 128,000, while the number of borrowers almost doubled (96%) to 273,000.

Christine Farnish, chair of the P2PFA, said the launch of a new type of ISA that will make the majority of peer-to-peer earnings tax-free could help 2016 become an even bigger year for the sector.

“Year-on-year, peer-to-peer lending continues to grow and have a strong impact across all markets,” she said.

“The growth demonstrates that more lenders and borrowers believe our industry to be a real alternative to traditional lenders. This is only enhanced by our members’ approach to transparency and strict business conduct rules.

“2016 is another important year for the industry as we look forward to the April launch of the Innovative Finance ISA.”

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Funding Circle recently announced that its investors had lent more than £1bn to small businesses in the UK.

The online marketplace, which specialises in business loans, said more than half of this money was lent in 2015 alone.

Since its launch six years ago, Funding Circle has supplied finance to 12,000 UK businesses.

Funding Circle co-founders Samir Desai, James Meekings and Andrew Mullinger

James Meekings, Funding Circle’s UK managing director and co-founder, said: “We’re committed to creating opportunities for small businesses that didn’t exist before.

“For too long, they were reliant on a single line of credit from traditional providers.

“We’re building the infrastructure where any investor, big or small, can lend. We want to become the first choice for small business finance by making small business lending faster and easier than ever before.”

Globally, Funding Circle’s investors have lent $1.8bn to 15,000 businesses.