Universal Credit: two child limit

Your Universal Credit payment may include a ‘child element’ for up to two children or young people in your household. If you have a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017, you will only be paid for that child in special circumstances.

If you have three or more children you cannot currently claim Universal Credit unless you have already had a Universal Credit award within the last six months. You should claim for an existing benefit instead. This will change in February 2019.

People affected

If you have a third or subsequent child (fourth, fifth and so on) born on or after 6 April 2017, you will not be paid a child element for that child/children unless there are special circumstances or transitional protection applies.

If you are not sure whether you receive the child element, check your Universal Credit statement. 

Transitional protection

Transitional protection applies to any child born before 6 April 2017 who joins your household if you already receive a child element for two other children who were born before 6 April 2017.  

Example

Penny has three children all born before 6 April 2017 but only two of the children live with Penny. As Penny has only two children living with her, she claims Universal Credit on 3 October. Penny receives a child element for the two children who live with her.

On 6 November Penny’s third child joins her household.  As this child was born before 6 April 2017 and there are two other children living with Penny who were also born before 6 April, the third child will be transitionally protected and Penny will receive a child element for all three children.

Special circumstances

There are special circumstances where you will get a child element for a third or subsequent child or young person born on or after 6 April 2017. These include:

  • multiple births
  • adopted children
  • children living with family, friends or in non-parental caring arrangements
  • children likely to have been conceived from a non-consensual sexual act 

Multiple births

This relates to all third or subsequent children in your household born as part of a multiple birth, apart from one child in that birth.

Situation one

If you already receive a child element for two children and you have twins, you will only be paid an extra child element for one child in the multiple birth.  If you already receive a child element for two children and you have triplets, you will only be paid an extra child element for two children in the multiple birth, and so on.

Example

Kevin and Penny have two children in their family, Jack (aged five) and Jill (aged three), when twins Alex and Luke are born on 20 December 2017. Kevin is the parent of and responsible for the twins. Kevin is therefore entitled to a child personal allowance for Jack, Jill and one of the twins.

Situation two

If the first child of the multiple birth is the second child on your claim, you will receive dependant’s allowance for that child. You also receive dependant’s allowance for the other child or children of the multiple birth.

Example

Kevin and Penny have Jack (aged five) in their family when twins Alex and Luke are born on 20 December 2017. Kevin is the parent of and responsible for the twins. Kevin is therefore entitled to a child element for Jack, Alex and Luke.  

Adopted children

This relates to all third or subsequent children in your household born on or after 6 April 2017 who are adopted through the Health and Social Care Trust.

It applies from the date you become responsible for the adopted child.

This special circumstance will not apply if:

  • the child is adopted from abroad (an overseas or ‘Convention’ adoption)
  • you or your partner were their step-parent immediately before you adopted them
  • you or your partner were their natural parent (‘natural parent’ is sometimes called ‘birth parent’ or ‘biological parent’)
  • you or your partner had already adopted the child under the law of any country or territory outside the British Isles

Children living with family, friends or in non-parental caring arrangements

This special circumstance applies to the following two groups.

Friend and family carers

This applies where you have a formal caring arrangement in place, such as where you have been appointed by a court as legally responsible for the child or young person.

It may also apply where the caring arrangement is made on an informal basis. In this case, you and your social worker must complete Form ICINI(IS) and return it to the Department for Communities Exceptions team.

The friend and family carers’ special circumstance will not apply if you or your partner is a parent or step-parent of the child or young person.

Under 16 year olds who have a child

This applies where a child under 16 you are responsible for becomes the parent of a child.

In this circumstance you can get a child element for the new child if they are also within your household and you are responsible for them. This exception will remain in place until the parent turns 16 and is able to claim benefits on their own for them and their child.

This special circumstance may stop if the young parent leaves the household, leaving their child in your care and you already receive a child element for two other children or young people.

Children conceived from a non-consensual sexual act 

This applies to third or subsequent children in your household where the Department for Communities has decided the child:

  • is likely to have been conceived as a result of a non-consensual sexual act (including rape)  
  • was conceived at or around a time you were subject to ongoing controlling behaviour or coercive behaviour by the other parent of the child, which had a serious effect on you

To qualify for a child element in these circumstances, you must no longer be living with the child’s other biological parent. You will be asked to confirm this.

This special circumstance may apply if:

  • there has been a conviction for rape under Northern Ireland law
  • there has been a conviction for an offence under the law of a country outside Northern Ireland which is comparable to a conviction for rape
  • you have been awarded a Criminal Injuries Compensation Award for a relevant injury, at or around the time of conception

However, there does not need to have been a court case, conviction or compensation award for this special circumstance to apply.

If you think this special circumstance applies to your situation, fill in Form NCC1NI(IS) with the help of an approved third party and return the form to the Department for Communities' Exceptions team.

Approved third parties

The following organisations and professionals can help you complete Form NCC1NI(IS):

The declaration on the form from an approved third party will be accepted as evidence that this special circumstance applies.  At no time will you be questioned by Department for Communities staff about the incident.

Effect on other benefits

You may still be entitled to help with childcare costs for children or young people you’re responsible for, even if you do not receive a child element for all of them.

Certain other benefits, including Child Benefit and free school meals, will not be affected.

To make sure you don’t miss out on benefits you are entitled to, you should report the birth of a child, a child joining your household and any changes in your circumstances involving children or young people to your local Social Security or Jobs & Benefits office.

Two child limit from February 2019

From February 2019, you will be able to claim Universal Credit if you have three or more children. Your payment will not include an extra amount for your third or subsequent child, regardless of when they were born, unless any of the special circumstances above apply.

Transitional protection

If you have three or more children, all born before 6 April 2017, and claim Universal Credit from February 2019, you will be entitled to transitional protection for the third or subsequent child if either:

  • you were entitled to Universal Credit immediately before February 2019 (or you are in a six month period between awards) and you were responsible for the third child
  • you were receiving a payment for the third child from one of the existing benefits in the six months before February 2019 and you are still responsible for the child

Further information

For queries or further information, please contact the Department for Communities Exceptions team

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