Universal Credit: two child limit

The ‘two child’ policy was established on 6 April 2017, providing support through Universal Credit for a maximum of two children. From 1 February 2019, Universal Credit accepts new claims from families regardless of how many children you have.

Child Element

The child element of your Universal Credit payment will depend on how many children you have and the date they were born.

Your Universal Credit payment may include a ‘child element’ for each child in your household, born before 6 April 2017. If you have a child/children born on or after 6 April 2017, your payment will only include a child element for them if they are your first or second born child or if any of the special circumstances below apply.

For example, if you’re already claiming Universal Credit, have responsibility for two children and you then give birth to a new child, you won’t get an additional amount of Universal Credit for that new child, unless special circumstances apply.

Further examples:

  • Penny has three children all born before 6 April 2017, and all of whom live with her.  Penny claims Universal Credit.  Penny receives the child element of Universal Credit for each of the three children

If you have a child/children born on or after 6 April 2017, you will only be paid the child element of Universal Credit if that child/children are the first and second born.  If you have a third or subsequent child/children born on or after 6 April 2017, you will only be paid for that child if special circumstances apply.

  • Sue has three children who live with her.  All of Sue’s children were born on or after 6 April 2017.  Sue claims Universal Credit and receives the child element for both her first and second born children.  Sue does not receive the child element for her third born as she is already receiving the child element for two children and the third child does not meet the criteria for special circumstances
  • Claire has three children who live with her.  One was born before 6 April 2017 and the other two were born after this date.  Claire claims Universal Credit and receives the child element for the child born before 6 April 2017 and for her second born child.  Claire does not receive the child element for her third born child as she is already receiving the child element for two children and the third child does not meet the criteria for special circumstances
  • Jane has three children who all live with her.  Two are born before 6 April 2017 and one after this date.  Jane claims Universal Credit and receives the child element for each of the two children born before 6 April 2017, but does not receive the child element for the child born after this date, as she is already receiving the child element for two children and the third child does not meet the criteria for special circumstances

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

Making a new claim to Universal Credit

If you have been getting support for children in Universal Credit, Child Tax Credit, Income Support or Jobseeker’s Allowance in the last 6 months, you will continue to get the child element for the same number of children, as long as you remain responsible for the same children.

If you’re making a new claim, Universal Credit will pay an additional child element for all children born before 6 April 2017.

Exceptions (special circumstances) that applied in a previous award of Universal Credit will continue to apply in your new Universal Credit award, unless the conditions for that exception are no longer met.

Once you’re getting Universal Credit, you’ll still be entitled to a child element for any child born before 6 April 2017.

  • For example, if your child is living elsewhere at the time of your claim and then returns to your household, as long as they were born before 6 April 2017 you should be entitled to a child element.

Note: If this happens and you already have a second child who was born after 6 April 2017, the second child will be moved to the position of third child and you’ll not get an additional child element unless an exception applies (to the child born after 6 April 2017).

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 element 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 a child element for that child. You will also receive a child element 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.

We recognise that the handling of this exception is extremely sensitive. However, it is very important to have this exception in place to support you if you’re in this position.

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.

You’ll still be entitled to additional support in respect of any disabled children, even if you aren’t getting an additional child amount of Universal Credit for the disabled child.

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 Jobs and Benefits office.

Further information

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

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