* Diluted headline EPS at 287 cents vs 250 cents
* Consensus: 298 cents
* Dividend, special dividend totals 215 cents (Add details, shares)
JOHANNESBURG, March 7 (Reuters) - South Africa's biggest life insurer, Sanlam Ltd, reported a smaller-than-expected 15 percent rise in full-year profit on Thursday as consumers refrained from taking up new policies.
But shares in Sanlam rose about 1 percent after the Cape Town-based company declared a forecast-beating dividend and a special dividend.
Sanlam said diluted headline earnings per share totalled 287 cents in the year to end-December, from 250 cents a year earlier.
That was well below the 298 cents in a Thomson Reuters StarMine estimate, which gives more weight to top-ranked analysts.
Headline EPS, the benchmark profit measure in South Africa, excludes certain one-time items.
South African insurers are struggling to write new policies as unemployment, high personal debt levels and a tentative economic growth eat into consumers' deposable income.
But a rally in domestic equity and bond markets over the last year, which boosts fees earned on assets under their management, has helped them maintain some growth.
Sanlam, which owns a controlling stake in domestic short term insurer Santam, lifted its annual dividend by 27 percent to 165 cents per share and said it would pay an additional 50 cents in a special dividend.
StarMine had predicted a dividend payout of 16 cents per share.
The company's stock picked up 0.7 percent to 48.04 rand by 0916 GMT, largely in line with the JSE Top-40 index. (Reporting by Tiisetso Motsoeneng; editing by David Dolan)