Watch as John Oliver clears $15 million of medical debt on US TV

Oliver accused of copying method of wiping debt that helped 9,000 people.

Last Week Tonight host John Oliver has wiped $15 million of medical debt in the US by buying up old debts of thousands of poverty-stricken people.

The debt actually cost Oliver just $60,000. In a segment on his HBO programme designed to show just how easy it could be for companies to wipe off medical debts in America, Oliver set up a debt recovery company for $50.

Having set up Central Asset Recovery Professionals (CARP), Oliver spent $60,000 to buy $14.9 million of medical debt owed by 9,000 Americans. It’s possible for US firms to buy the debt relatively cheaply and then force the debtors to pay up.

However, on the most recent episode of Last Week Tonight, Oliver explained how firms like CARP operate – and then announced he was writing off the $14.9 million debt. He pressed a red button on his show’s desk, which prompted a shower of dollar bills over the audience.

Oliver proclaimed the segment to be the biggest giveaway in US television history, beating the $7m which Oprah Winfrey spent in 2004 to buy every member of her chatshow audience a car. Oliver tweeted a link to his debt segment with the message: “Your move, Oprah.”

However, Oliver has been accused of stealing the idea for giving away the debt by activist group The Debt Collective. The group claims it was contacted by the Last Week Tonight production team, on learning it wiped out $30 million of debt between 2012 and 2015.

The Debt Collective claimed in a statement that Last Week Tonight withdrew from working with the collective because of its links to the Occupy Wall Street movement.