Universal credit: 2-child limit

This page was written to help advisers understand how the 2 child limit policy, introduced into Universal Credit from 6 April 2017 works in practice.

Introduction to the changes

In the 2015 Summer Budget, the Government announced two changes to be made to Universal Credit from 6 April 2017. Similar, though not identical, changes were announced for Child Tax Credit.

This original policy was amended in February 2019. Whereas the original intention was that the policy would apply to all children (no matter when they were born) from 2019, the amendment means that all children/young people born before 6 April 2017 will receive a child element in UC. This brings the policy in line with that of Child Tax Credit.

Other elements of Universal Credit

The disabled child and severely disabled child elements remain payable for as many children or qualifying young people on the claim who meet the qualifying conditions.

Similarly, the two child limit does not apply to the childcare element, so even if a child element is not payable for a child the claimant can still claim help with childcare costs for that child (as long as the other conditions for the childcare element are met). 

Even if the child element is not payable for a specific child, it is important that the claimant(s) report the addition of the child to their household to DWP/HMRC. This is because they may still be entitled to the disability elements or childcare element. It will also mean that if one of the other children move off the claim, the child may move into a position where the child element is payable. If they are already on the system, this should happen automatically.

Overview of the 2 child limit

New UC claimants will only receive child elements for:

A child element will not be included in theUC award for any child born on or after 6 April 2017 unless there is already no more than one child element included for a child in the award or an exception applies. There are specific ordering rules which are used to determine the order of children where a claim includes more than two children.

Some transitional protection will apply for people who have claimed UC, CTC or some other benefits with child elements in the preceding 6 months.

Existing UC claimants

Existing UC claimants will continue to receive child elements for any child or young person who they are responsible for and who was born before 6 April 2017.

For children born after 6 April 2017, if they are the first or second child on the claim (as determined by the ordering rules), then a child element will be paid for them. However if they are the third or subsequent child (as determined by the ordering rules), they will only receive a child element if an exception applies.

Ordering of children

The legislation that introduced the 2 child limit policy contains specific rules on how to order children.

When working out the order of children on the claim, all children are taken into account – including those born before 6 April 2017. However, under new rules introduced from November 2018, children who meet the criteria for the adoption exception, non-parental care exception or the child of a child exception are to be excluded when considering the ordering of the children. Such children/qualifying young people will always receive a child element no matter where they come in the ordering.

The order is based on the date of birth of each child or qualifying young person for whom the claimant is responsible for, take the eldest first.

Where the date determined under the ordering rules is the same date in respect of two or more children then DWP can order the children in whatever way is appropriate to ensure that the individual child element is included in respect of the greatest number of children.

A step-parent means a person who is not the child’s parent but who is:

If immediately prior to ceasing to be a member of that couple of that polygamous unit the person was, and has since remained, responsible for the child.

Re-ordering can occur when a new child joins the household. However it can also happen when a child leaves the household. When that happens, the ordering above should be looked at again.

Adoption and non-parental care agreements

Prior to 28 November 2018, there were exceptions in place for third or subsequent children who were adopted or subject to non-parental care arrangements (including the child of a child who the claimant is responsible for).

However, these exceptions are no longer required as from November 2018 any child/qualifying young person who meets the criteria set out for those previous exceptions will receive a child element.

This was introduced following a legal challenge. Under the existing rules, if a UC claimant adopted a child and then went on to give birth to two children, they would not receive a child element for the third child unless an exception applied for that third child. However, it was felt that this would discourage people from adopting and taking on care of a child under non-parental care arrangements.

Under the new rules, all children/young people who are adopted or who fall under the non-parental care arrangement criteria will receive a child element. They will also be disregarded when considering the ordering of children meaning in the example above, the claimants two birth children would be considered the first and second on the claim and so would both receive a child element (in addition to the child element given for the child who was adopted).

Adoption

The adoption exception will apply to a child if they have been:

The exception will not apply if:

Adoption example 1

May is a single parent. She claims UC for her two children who were born in 2010 and 2012 respectively. In May 2019, she adopts a baby. Under the normal rules, she would not receive a child element in respect of her new baby because she is already claiming for two other children. However, as her third child is adopted, they will receive a child element.

If May was to give birth to a fourth child in July 2020, she would not receive the child element for that child unless one of the exceptions applied to the fourth child.

Non-parental caring arrangements

This will apply where the claimant(s) is a friend or family carer of the child. A 'friend of family carer' means a person who is responsible for the child if any of the following apply:

The exception will also apply where the claimant is responsible for the child and any of the first 6 bullets above applied immediately prior to the child's 16th birthday and since that date the claimant has continued to be responsible for the child.

The exception will NOT apply if the claimant(s) is the parent of the child or step-parent of the child.

Child of a child that the claimant is responsible for

This is intended to cover situations where the claimant's child has a child of their own who the claimant is also responsible for. This situation is most likely to happen where the claimant(s) is the grandparent of the child.

Note that for UC purposes, a child is defined as someone under the age of 16. This exception only applies where the claimant is responsible for a child (under the age of 16) who has a child of their own. For child tax credit, the exception applies where the claimant is responsible for a child or qualifying young person, who has a child of their own.

If a claimant has two children of their own, then becomes responsible for their grandchild, they will receive child elements for all three children. However, if they go on to have a further child of their own, they will not receive the child element for that child.

Exceptions

Multiple births

The purpose of the multiple birth exception is to recognise that families do not normally plan for a multiple birth.

In some cases, a multiple birth will not need an exception. For example, if a claimant has twins and claims UC for the first time – the twins will each receive a child element because the claimant is not receiving a child element for any other child.

The multiple birth exception will be needed where:

The first child in a multiple birth will only get the child element if they are the first or second child on that claim. If they are not, then they will not receive the child element. For all other children in the multiple birth (other than the first born), they will each receive a child element due to the multiple birth exception as long as the claimant remains responsible for at least two children born as part of the multiple birth.

Multiple birth example 1

Chester and Roseanne are claiming universal credit. They have no children. In May 2018, Roseanne gives birth to twins. As the couple are not claiming for any other children, no exception is required and the child element will be paid for each child.

Multiple birth example 2

Assume that Chester and Roseanne from Example 1 had Triplets in May 2018 (rather than twins). The first and second child would receive child elements, however under the new rules the third child would not receive a child element.  

The multiple birth exception means that in this case – a child element would be payable for Child 3.

Multiple birth example 3

Elliott and Justine are existing UC claimants who have two children who were born before 6 April 2017. In May 2018, Justine gives birth to twins – Dexter and Diane. Under the normal rules, no child elements would be paid for either Dexter or Diane, because they are the third and fourth children on the claim. 

As Dexter (the third child on the claim) is the first child in the multiple birth and isn’t the first or second child on the claim – no child element will be paid for him as no exception applies.

However, a child element will be paid for Diane because she is the second child in the multiple birth and the multiple birth exception applies.

Non consensual conception

This exception applies in relation to a child where:

The legislation goes on to further define ‘did not have the freedom or capacity to agree by choice’ as including (but not limited to) circumstances which at or around the time the child was conceived:

Personally connected in this context means that B is in an intimate personal relationship with the claimant or B and the claimant live together and are members of the same family or have previously been in an intimate personal relationship with each other.

The claimant and B are members of the same family if, at or around the time the child in question is conceived:

The behaviour has a serious effect on a claimant if it causes the claimant to fear, on at least two occasions, that violence will be used against them or it causes the claimant serious alarm or distress which has a substantial adverse effect on their day to day activities.

Claiming exceptions

Process

Our understanding is that claimants will be asked on the online system if they think an exception applies when they add a third or subsequent child. They should then receive a call from a DWP adviser who will signpost them to the relevant forms online (we are investigating what options exist for those who do not have internet access). An appointment will then be arranged with a work coach where supporting evidence (see below) can be provided.

It should be noted that the exception will only be applied from the beginning of the assessment period in which it is claimed. So if a claimant phones DWP to add a child to the claim but does not claim an exception at the same time, DWP’s will not backdate the exception to the date the child was added if the claimant later contacts them to say an exception should apply.

Evidence requirements

DWP will require evidence that the child meets the exception conditions in most cases except for multiple births (which can be established from information already given).

If the claimant has previously provided evidence to HMRC for this exception, DWP can accept that the evidence has been provided for UC purposes.

Continuation of exceptions for step-parents

The regulations allow for the continuation of exceptions in cases involving step-parents. DWP say that this is to avoid a cash loss where a step-parent takes responsibility for the children after a joint claim with their parent ends. The continuation continues until the step-parent is no longer responsible for the relevant child. If the step-parent forms a new relationship, the exception would continue if they remain responsible for the child.

The regulations have introduced a specific definition of step-parent. It means a person who is not the child’s parent but who is:

* If immediately prior to ceasing to be a member of that couple of that polygamous unit the person was, and has since remained, responsible for the child.

There will be a continuation of an exception for a child if no other exception applies to that child, the claimant(s) is the child’s step-parent and the claimant has previously been entitled to an award of universal credit as a member of a couple jointly with a parent of the Child where an exception for multiple birth, adoption, or non-consensual conception applied.

The run-on will continue until either the step-parent is no longer responsible for the relevant child or until there is break in their Universal Credit entitlement over 6 months. The continuation also applies where the previous claim was CTC, old style JSA or income support.

The first child premium

Prior to 6 April 2017, a higher amount of child element was included for the first child on a UC claim – called the first child premium. This higher rate is no longer be paid for a first child born after 6 April 2017. Only claimants who are responsible for a child or qualifying young person born before 6 April 2017 will receive the first child premium.

There is more information about universal credit and the 2 child limit on the GOV.UK website.

Last reviewed/updated 4 June 2019