If this is competition, then just what would a monopoly look like? That’s the question being posed by hard-pressed householders who have been hit by a double whammy of rising electricity and gas prices just as we feel the first chilly reminder that autumn and winter are just around the corner.

Many moons ago, Northern Ireland Electricity was privatised with assurances that this would improve the quality of service and bring prices crashing down. What a sick joke that all seems now.

Whatever about the service, prices have certainly remained high no matter how many times NIE is sold on (latterly to our friends down the road in ESB) or given fancy new names.

The gas competition pledge has been a similar fiasco.

Many gazillions were spent laying gas pipe lines following assurances by government and utility companies that gas would be a dirt-cheap alternative to electricity. Fast-forward to 2011 and we have the dearest gas prices in Europe despite having allegedly competing companies in Phoenix Gas and Firmus. And the number of people hurtling officially into fuel poverty, including the elderly and the vulnerable, has increased immeasurably.

Those who made the switch to the newer kid on the block don’t need reminded that they did so on the promise of price savings – where is that promise now?

In the face of these price-hike shenanigans, the Utility Regulator insists the interests of the ordinary punter are being vigorously defended when it comes to energy costs. This of course is a quango where the average wage is £43,000 – the sort of wage needed, let it be said, to deal with soaring gas and electricity costs.

But for businesses and consumers faced with scandalous price rises on the cusp of winter, there is no insulation, no protection.