South Hams has more empty second homes than anywhere else in Devon, according to a new interactive map from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The map shows that six per cent of dwellings in the South Hams lie empty, the same percentage share as in Kensington and Chelsea, and only slightly lower than in the City of London (6.8 per cent).

Meanwhile, 51.9 out of every 1,000 residents in South Hams use a second home as a holiday home - up from 45 in 2011. 

The Daily Mail revealed the data last week, noting that South Hams was one of the worst affected areas, adding that 172 holiday homes for every 1,000 houses in Salcombe, Marlborough and Thurlestone lie empty, as reported in this paper last October.

According to the ONS, South Hams as a whole also has the highest number of holiday homes in the South West, accounting for 4.1 per cent of all second addresses, or 44.1 holiday homes for every 1,000 homes, which is also the highest rate of any local authority area in England and Wales.

The latest data comes three months after this paper highlighted the plight of would-be home owners in South Hams, showing that thousands of prospective home buyers in the area face some of the biggest hurdles when it comes to buying a property.

According to Zoopla, a residential property insight firm, the average sold price for a property in Salcombe in the last 12 months was £955,159. Leading property firm Knight Frank also recently revised its housing market forecast, saying that prices this year will climb 3 per cent, instead of falling by 4 per cent.

The news comes hot on the heels of data from the CPRE countryside charity, which found that homelessness in rural areas of the South West of England has risen by 36.5 per cent in the last five years due to the rise in second homes, as well as the jump in the cost of living.

Salcombe recently made the headlines as residents have reportedly accused second-home owners of renting out their homes ‘on the sly’ to avoid paying a £350 ‘bin tax’.

South Hams Cllr Denise O’Callaghan recently expressed her concerns to this paper about second homes and holiday rentals, adding that changes to tax loopholes should be introduced so that “every such property regardless of its use is charged council tax, not business rates”.

Holiday home owners pay business rates instead of council tax for properties available to let for 20 weeks (140 days) or more in a calendar year.

The Coast & Country Cottages property rental website notes that the new rules were introduced to target second homeowners “who take advantage of the system to avoid paying their fair share towards local services in popular destinations. 

“It will prevent those who leave their properties empty for most of the year, from accessing preferential business rates.”

Higher rental prices

Lettings estate agent Hamptons has said rents on new tenancies have increased across the UK by 10.2 per cent year-on-year - the highest end-of-year annual growth since records began in 2014.

Hamptons’ data for the South West shows that the average rent has soared by 38 per cent between January 2020 and August 2023 – the fourth highest in the UK, behind Scotland (43 per cent), and the North East and North West of England. 

The average monthly rent on a newly let property in the South West is now £1,149, up 6.3 per cent year-on-year. 

The property rental website this week showed one water-front property in Salcombe being advertised for £1,109 a week. In total, 70 rental properties in the resort town are currently available on the site, mostly priced between £400-600 a week. 

The Devon Housing Commission recently reported that organisations such as Airbnb were responsible for properties being switched from longer-term lets, adding that this was “severely impacting those in need of a rented home”.