Summary. Injection drug use is a common route of infection for the hepatitis B virus (HBV) in the UK. The aim of this study was to establish the prevalence and force of infection for HBV among injecting drug users (IDUs) recruited from multiple community and drug agency settings in England and Wales between 1990 and 2004. Cross-sectional studies of IDUs in and out of contact with drug agencies were conducted throughout the 15-year period. Oral fluid samples were tested for antibodies to the hepatitis B core antigen (anti-HBc). Logistic regression was used to investigate associations between risk factors and anti-HBc positivity and force of infection models were explored. In total, 2527 injectors were recruited from community settings, and 29 386 from drug agencies. Anti-HBc prevalence was 31% (95% CI 30.7–31.8%). It declined in the early 1990s from around 50% in 1992 to 25% in 1999, after which it increased slightly. It was also higher in those who had injected for longer, older IDUs, those recruited in London and North West England, and those reporting having a previous voluntary confidential HIV test. The force of infection models suggested that the incidence of infection increased in 1999–2004 compared with 1993–1998, and was higher in new injectors compared with those injecting for ≥1 year. In conclusion, findings suggest ongoing HBV transmission in recent years despite an overall decline in prevalence in the early and mid-1990s, and highlight the importance of targeting vaccination programmes at new IDUs who have high incidence rates of infection.