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Colombia to Eliminate Residential Strata


Colombia will eliminate residential strata – Credit: A.P. / Colombia One

Colombia will eliminate the residential strata into which city neighborhoods are divided according to their perceived socioeconomic status. With this measure, the government of President Gustavo Petro intends to reorganize the distribution of subsidies for public services, which are currently aimed at the three lowest strata, regardless of the income of the resident in the stratum. Many other public subsidies are also linked to the stratum, without taking into account the applicant’s income.

This change, already announced by the Colombian president last October, seeks a fairer and more equitable allocation of public subsidies, based on people’s specific income, not according to the neighborhood in which they live, as has been the case up to now. In Colombia, neighborhoods are divided into six strata, the lowest being 1, 2 and 3, and the highest, 5 and 6, being required to pay an extra charge on utility bills which serves to finance the lowest.

First step to end strata

Recently, the National Planning Department (NPD) announced a decree to create the Universal Income Registry (RUI), a mechanism that aims to eliminate the strata system in Colombia. In this way the State intends to radically change the way public aid is granted.

“This is given with the purpose of making such registry the only instrument for the targeting of subsidies, programs, policies, plans, projects and services of the social state”, states the legislative text. Likewise, it is also explained that during the methodological development phase, it is necessary that a process of definition, elaboration, approval and systematization of a model for the estimation of per capita income is required, which allows the assignment of a classification according to the income level of households.

In this sense, the decree will seek to classify the population by income level from three sources of information: payments made to the General Social Security System, income tax liquidation information from administrative records in dimensions other than income, and self-declared information to the Tax Office, known as DIAN.

Transition in 2 years

The first phase will begin with the final approval of the decree, which so far has only been announced, and will last until the second half of 2025. During this phase, the NPD will also provide technical assistance to the administrators of subsidy programs to help sustain the system during the two-year transition period that has been established.

The transition process is expected to begin in the first half of this year and conclude by the end of 2025, with full implementation by the first half of 2026, according to NPD sources.

In addition, by the end of the second quarter of 2026, the selection of new social assistance beneficiaries will be based on the information provided by the RUI, with the integration of all processes related to the country’s social benefits, according to the document.

Jorge Gonzalez, director of the NPD, explained that “the Social Registry of Households is the first step towards the Universal Income Registry (RUI), which will greatly reduce the errors of inclusion and exclusion in public services”. In this sense, Gonzalez pointed out that, at this moment, in Colombia there are approximately 3 million households that have electricity, water and gas services subsidized because they belong to strata 1, 2 or 3, but which should not have them due to the real income level of their residents.

President Petro advanced project

President Gustavo Petro already put forward the intentions of his government, last October, in an event in the popular town of Bosa, south of the country’s capital. There, the also former mayor of Bogotá described the city as “difficult”, especially because of its marked socioeconomic differences between the north and the south.

For the Colombian president, the stratification system helps to perpetuate these social differences. “The idea of strata has been fixed, and we have not been able to put an end to it. Stratifying the population is almost dividing them into castes, impassable one from the other. As in India (…) when all this society should be democratic”, Petro stated in his speech in Bosa.

For the head of state, it is necessary to look for democratizing elements in the cities. In this sense, he gave as an example the future subway of Bogota, which will link various parts of the capital, with the intention of blurring the marked socioeconomic differences that exist depending on the neighborhoods.

In fact, already in January 2022, when he started the electoral campaign that would take him to the presidency, months later Gustavo Petro announced that “in my government stratification will be eliminated as a basis for the granting of public subsidies, for that we have the Sisben survey. The social strata will end”.

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