Second homes for wealthy incomers outnumber social homes for local families in the South Hams, it has been claimed.

And villages allegedly stay dark as the number of homes left unoccupied in the winter increases.

District councillors have pledged to enforce a policy making the owners of second homes pay double council tax, and one told a full council meeting: “If I could, I’d make them pay more.”

The double-tax policy has been agreed by the government, but not in time for 2024/25 council tax bills. It will begin in April next year.

The second homes debate came as the council agreed to raise its share of the council tax on local households for the coming year by 2.99 per cent – an increase of £5.54 a year for a typical Band D home.

Council leader Julian Brazil (Lib Dem, Stokenham) said it is a shame it has to go up at all, but the council has no choice in the face of increasing costs and dwindling government support.

Cllr Nicky Hopwood (Con, Woolwell) said she could not support an increase in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis with ’no light at the end of the tunnel’.

Members also discussed the second homes premium, and Cllr Jonathan Hawkins (Con, Dartmouth and East Dart) told the meeting: “All over the South Hams, particularly Dartmouth, Kingswear and Stoke Gabriel, we are inundated with second homes.

“I’d put their council tax up by 200 per cent.”

Cllr Denise O’Callaghan (Lib Dem, Kingsbridge) went on: “The number of second homes we have is greater than the number of social homes. Social housing is just not there for people who really need it.

“Some people have an awful lot of money and have more than one house, and that is pushing up prices in places like Dartmouth, Kingsbridge and Salcombe. There are more second homes than there are first homes in places like Salcombe and East Portlemouth.

“I am not having a go at these people at all, but it’s fair that they should contribute to the community.”

A proportion of the money raised by the double council tax in the South Hams will go to Devon County Council, and there were calls for that money to be ring-fenced for housing projects in the district.

Cllr Dan Thomas (Lib Dem, Newton and Yealmpton) said there are villages in his area where more than half of the homes are second homes. And, he added: “There is nothing sadder than standing in one of the villages in my ward and looking out over another to see it dark.”