Ask CPAG Online - how does the two-child limit apply to universal credit?

This section looks at how the two-child limit affects your universal credit. It looks at what happens if you already have three or more children (including where you are already getting universal credit) and what happens if you have another child. It also looks at the special arrangements that apply until 1 November 2018, and what happens after that date.

When does the two-child limit apply to universal credit?

The two-child limit applies to all universal credit claims and awards from 6 April 2017. This means that it can affect you both if you are making a new claim or are already getting universal credit.

From 6 April 2017, in general you can only get child elements included in your universal credit for a maximum of two children. You can continue to get child elements already included. You cannot get a child element for a third or subsequent child in your family born on or after 6 April 2017, unless an exception applies (see What are the exceptions?).

You can get a child element for:

  • your first and second child, whenever they were born;
  • a third or subsequent child born before 6 April 2017, subject to detailed requirements (see What if you already have three or more children, below);
  • a third or subsequent child born on or after 6 April 2017 to whom an exception applies.

The main rule about the two-child limit in universal credit is in regulation 2(3) of the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2017.

What if I already have three or more children?

In general, if your universal credit already includes child elements for three or more children, you continue to get those elements.

If your third or subsequent child was born before 6 April 2017, then the two-child limit usually does not apply to them, even where you were not already getting a child element for them, although there are some more detailed requirements.

If the child was born on or after 6 April 2017, the two-child limit will apply regarding them unless an exception applies.  

The key to the detail regarding a third or subsequent child born before 6 April 2017 is whether:

  • you are already getting universal credit (or are reclaiming within six months of a previous claim ending) - see Already getting universal credit (or reclaiming within six months) below, or
  • you are not already getting universal credit and you try to make a new claim for it  - see Special arrangements, below.

Already getting universal credit (or reclaiming within six months)

If you are already getting universal credit (or are reclaiming within six months of the end of a previous award) and have a child element for a third or subsequent child included, that element will continue to be paid (i.e. the two child limit will not apply). But the two-child limit may still apply to a new child born on or after 6 April 2017.

Before 1 November 2018, regarding a third or subsequent child born before 6 April 2017, whether a child element is already included for them or not, the detailed requirements for the two-child limit not to apply to them are that:

  • you have a least two other children born before 6 April that you or your partner are responsible for, and
  • either those other two children are older than the child, or you or your partner were already responsible for them.

This detail will change, however, from 1 November 2018 (see Special arrangements, below).

The rule about these requirements is in regulation 3(3) of the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2017.

Examples

Jan and Jo have three children, all born before 6 April 2017. They are already getting universal credit including child elements for all three children. The two-child limit does not apply regarding their third (i.e. youngest) child. However, from 6 April 2017, if they have another child the limit will apply regarding that child (and they will not get a child element for them) unless an exception applies.

Owen and Gwyneth have two children, one born before 6 April 2017, one after. They are already getting universal credit and get child elements for both these (first and second) children. In July 2017, they become responsible for a third child, Gareth, as part of an informal family care arrangement. Gareth was born before 6 April 2017, but is regarded as the third child because he is the most recent to join the family. Even though he was born before 6 April 2017, the two-child limit may apply regarding Gareth, because Owen and Gwyneth do not have two other children born before that date. However, one of the exceptions to the two-child limit, for non-parental caring arrangements, may apply (see What are the exceptions?).

Sami is a single parent on universal credit, with two children both born before 6 April 2017. From 5 August 2017, she forms a couple with Steve who has one child, Ben, born on 2 May 2017. Their joint couple claim is within six months of Sami’s claim as a single person ending. The two-child limit applies regarding Steve’s child Ben. Ben is the youngest of the children in their new family, and who therefore counts as the third child, and who was born on or after 6 April. A child element will not be included regarding Ben, unless an exception applies.

 What if I have another child?

If your new child is only your second child, the two-child limit does not apply regarding them – you always get child elements for your first and second children, whenever they were born. This is the case whether or not you are already getting universal credit.

If you form a new family with someone with children of their own, all the children in your new family will count – see the example about Sami and Steve, above.

If you have another child who is your third or subsequent child (or a third or subsequent child otherwise becomes part of your family) and they are born on or after 6 April 2017, the two-child limit will apply regarding them. So you will not get a child element for them unless an exception applies. This is the case whether or not you are already getting universal credit. In some circumstances, it is possible for the two-child limit to apply regarding a third or subsequent child who was born before 6 April 2017 - see the example about Owen and Gwyneth above.

Special arrangements

6 April 2017 - 31 October 2018

Between 6 April 2017 and 31 October 2018 inclusive, if you already have three or more children and you try to make a new claim for universal credit (or a repeat claim more than six months after the end of a previous award) inclusive, special arrangements apply. The DWP calls this period the ‘interim period’. The rule about special arrangements during the interim period is in regulation 3(3) of the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2017.

In that situation, you are not allowed to make a new claim for universal credit and should instead be advised to claim child tax credit and housing benefit. You may also be able to get one of the other means-tested benefits that you can get outside the universal credit system (income support, income-based jobseeker’s allowance or income-related employment and support allowance).

From 1 November 2018

From 1 November 2018, you will claim universal credit even if you already have three or more children. Current awards of UC will continue.

From 1 November 2018, the two-child limit may apply to any UC claim or current award regarding a third or subsequent child in your family, regardless of when they were born. If it does apply, you will not get a child element for the child unless an exception applies. You can continue to get child elements already included. The rule about these arrangements is in regulation 3(3) of the Social Security (Restrictions on Amounts for Children and Qualifying Young Persons) Amendment Regulations 2017.

In general, if you were getting a child element for a third or subsequent child before 1 November 2018 in your current universal credit award or in child tax credit, that will continue (i.e. the two child limit will not apply regarding that child).

The detailed requirements for this are that the child was born before 6 April 2017 and the following also applies:

  • you (or your partner) was getting universal credit on 31 October 2018 and were responsible for the child on that day, or
  • you started getting universal credit on or after 1 November 2018, you (or your partner) were getting a child element for that child in an award of child tax credit, income support or income-based jobseeker’s allowance within the six months before your universal credit started, and in either case
  • you have since remained responsible for the child and continued to get universal credit (if you have to start a new award after becoming single or part of a couple, your award is treated as continuous), and
  • you have at least two other children in your family who were born before 6 April 2017 and either they are older than the child, or you or your partner were already responsible for them.